Monday, January 31, 2011

Confessions of a compulsive planner

I know it might seem ridiculously early but just about this time each year, I start thinking about planning next year's studies. It looks like I may not be alone in this. I've read more than one "planning" post on various blogs lately. Dawn's blog has been one of my favorites for a long time: By Sun and Candlelight and she has some great planning ideas.

Since we use a unit study/living books approach, my first planning step is deciding what we'll be studying for the next year. Last year, we travelled the world. This year was a little more random (oh wait, I think the word is "eclectic.")

Our first unit study was weather. My initial plan was to do one Five in a Row book that related to weather for each week of our study (four FIAR books total.) This turned out to be a little bit too much for us. We either did the weather unit OR the FIAR work, but very rarely did we get to both. I love FIAR way too much to let that happen!

Light was the next unit study on the schedule so we tried a different approach. We first rowed The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge for a whole week, then we used that as a jumping-off point for our study of light and worked on that for the next two weeks. That went much better.

From the Big Picture to the Daily Schedule

This, by the way, is most definitely not a "how to plan" post. I just thought I'd show you how I do it since I really enjoy reading how other people do it.

Once I have an idea of the FIAR books I want to schedule and the other unit studies we may want to do, I make a list of library books, videos, craft projects, potential field trips, etc. for each one so I can see how much time to allocate. I put each unit into a yearly plan which lays out every week of the year. The ocean in January, snow in February, that sort of thing. Then I plug in all the other subjects. Certain things, like Saxon math and our Bible study, are easy to schedule. TruthQuest History is a little more challenging since I don't know what subjects we might find particularly interesting and want to camp out on. For that reason, I only make four or five weekly schedules at a time. Even then, I usually end up with a lot of arrows and things crossed out or moved around.

And from the weekly schedule, I make out a daily schedule. In the beginning of the school year, it looks like this:

Isn't that lovely and hyper-organized? Unfortunately, it doesn't last - but fortunately, it doesn't have to. The daily lists I scrawl on one side of my planner work just fine too.

I keep all my forms, lists and plans in a three-ring binder, along with our reading log, thoughts for next year's studies, holiday plans, etc. I decorate a new one each year. This year's may seem a little uninspired but I liked the paper so much I didn't want to put anything else on it! It makes me smile.

I hope this has been a little bit helpful. As I said, I always enjoy a peek into other people's homeschools - hopefully you do too!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Water at the bottom of the ocean, part 2

Today was the end of our third week in our ocean unit and it looks like we'll be at it for at least another week, maybe longer. Z-Man is currently doing some research for a report on the giant squid. Since this is his first official written report, I wanted it to be a high interest topic for him so I let him choose whatever sea creature he wanted. He painstakingly made out a list of 27 creatures and then began the laborious process of narrowing it down. Ha! I had foolishly thought the topic would be chosen and research would begin on the same day! Silly me.

We did some fun projects this week too. One is a whale pocket guide a teacher friend gave me. We have some excellent pocket guides on birds, trees and wild flowers that we can take on nature walks but it never occurred to me that we should have been bringing one for whales. Thankfully, this oversight has now been corrected.

I do not consider myself craft challenged, but the 3-layer ocean bingo game almost got the best of me. It is hard to put together. But it is cool! Very cool. And we all enjoyed playing it. So it was probably worth it, but proceed at your own risk.

And speaking of the midnight zone, there are some pretty frightening creatures down there! This project focused on some of the bioluminescent fish (and one mollusk) so we used glow-in-the-dark fabric paint where they light up in real life. I wish I could get a picture showing how they glow but you'll just have to take my word for it.

Z-Man enjoyed this book on the first-ever manned deep sea dive - way back in 1934!

One of the easiest things I did turned out to be one that the boys most looked forward to each day. Each day I put a new sea creature on my computer desktop. There is a huge choice of beautiful photos here. After one day of bad attitudes*, I came downstairs the next morning and found that Mark had put this on my screen:

The rare and elusive Big Daddy Sea Turtle - ooooooh, he's a beauty!

Stuff we watched:
Some great videos and webcams at the Monteray Bay Aquarium site.
National Geographic's Really Wild Animals: Deep Sea Dive [VHS]
The Living Sea (Large Format)

And that had better wrap up this post! See you again soon!

*Yeah, we have them. I just don't blog about them. Trying to be positive and encouraging here. Just like K-Love.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

U.S. History

Our paper Jamestown

We are loving American History this year. We're using the first TruthQuest guide and it has been a perfect fit for us. There are no weekly plans, we just read the commentary in the guide and then open up a good book on the subject. The guide provides an extensive book list and I've been able to get almost everything I wanted through inter-library loan. I love that the guides focus on seeing God's hand throughout history using thought-provoking living books and gems from the past (with less revision of history.) I can't tell you how much I've learned!

So far, our absolute favorite "living books" have been:

We haven't done a lot of "projects" for history this year - it's been mostly reading and discussion. There are a few - a Columbus game from The Light and the Glory : Children's Activity Book

The little paper model of Jamestown at the top of this post is just the cutest thing and that came from the Homeschool in the Woods site. Just scroll down on the left. They have a treasure trove there, all written and illustrated by people with a passion for history and a true artistic gift.

We'll be doing some more hands-on things when we hit the Revolution with the Evan Moor History Pockets

We're also keeping a timeline in notebook form. I think I'd rather have one on the wall but we don't have space for it at the moment. That may have to be a future project.

And one last resource that our whole family has loved - the American history dvd's from Drive-Thru History. Love those!

I'll let you know how the revolution goes!

Monday, January 10, 2011

There's water at the bottom of the ocean

Please forgive my very long absence! Talk about a long Christmas break! It was lovely but I'm very glad to be back to some semblance of routine.

Last week we started back to regular "school" with an ocean study. I like doing unit studies in January because it's a kind of nice transition between the holidays and our regular routine.

So here's what we've done so far and what we're planning for the next few weeks:

Of course, we had to start with one of our favorite FIAR books, Night of the Moonjellies.

followed by these two gems:
The Mysterious Undersea World which shows kids exploring tide pools and coral reefs and even deep-sea submersibles. An older book but very cool.

This book, Incredible Ocean, is just gorgeous, with two-page spreads and close-ups of all kinds of sea creatures. After we picked it up at the library, the boys were so engrossed that when we got to the grocery store, it was a major disappointment that it couldn't come in with us.

We also loved Ultimate Field Trip 3: Wading into Marine Biology, where a group of middle school students explore marine biology at the Maine coast and The sometimes island, a story that helps explain tides as it tells of a boy who sneaks off to explore a peninsula that turns into an island when he isn't looking.

Little Man is really into dot-to-dots lately and has enjoyed Ocean Dot-to-Dot which has helped him with counting and alphabetizing. And we all loved Over in the Ocean, In a Coral Reef:

the illustrations are done completely with polymer clay and are just amazing! At the end of the book, the artist tells how she achieved some of the effects. Watch out if you read this one - you may want to run right out and invest a fortune in FIMO clay.

This is getting long so I think I'll have to do the ocean unit in a series of posts, but let me just leave you with this one project: a pop-up barnacle!

I tried to take a picture that would show that it actually worked - it pops up! How cool is that? I found this and some other great, free printables at Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop - wonderful stuff there!

I'll continue our ocean adventure in another post - hopefully very soon!