Mystery Boxes

I posted a few weeks back about a little project Decca worked on and how much he loved it. Someone asked me for the directions, so I thought I would make a post about it.

The box was an assignment that dealt with learning about the mystery genre, and after learning about the genre the student was to make a cube. On the sides of the cube the student would write information on the mystery (that he or she created on their own) such as the title, the suspects, the culprit, the setting, the mystery, and the clues. Decca had so much fun thinking up his own mystery and writing it all down.

The first step in making a mystery box is to cut a cube out of cardboard or card stock. We used an old shoe box for our cube, and it worked great. You can make the cube any size you want, but you need to make sure each square is the same size. Here is a picture of ours. (In subsequent cubes I added a little flap to one square to make it easier to glue together. You may want to consider doing this)

While the cube is still flat have the student fill out the information on their cube.

This is the title of Decca’s mystery.

This is the characters from his mystery.

The setting for the story.

What is the mystery?

The clues that help solve the mystery.

And finally we find out who is the culprit.

After the student has completed all the squares you simply glue or tape the box up.  Then your student should try to write the story out. The outline of the story is already done, so the transition to paper goes rather smoothly. Have fun!

Weekly Report

My daughter is home from school today. Because of this, and the wonderful weather, we are not doing any school. Instead we have spent most of the day outdoors. We started the day with a swim, and then Decca and I went on a nature walk. I love days like this.

The rest of the week we were all hard at work. Because I focused on my youngest son last week I thought I would focus on Truffaut this week. Tru has fallen into a wonderful schedule, and for the first time I can see how I would easily be able to homeschool him for the high school years if he so desires. The reason for this is that he has started to take control of his education. He knows what he wants to learn and what he needs to learn, and he takes responsibility for all of it.

This week Tru worked through 6 lessons in Saxon Algebra 1. He has also began working through Saxon grammar and writing, and for the first time he is doing all the writing required in this program. He realized that he needed to get his writing skills up, and now that he has realized that, he is determined.

Life is hard when you are a homeschooler. Here is Tru in the morning at his desk. He is watching a lecture while enjoying his Starbucks.

Besides all of his Saxon work, Tru is plowing through a new Great Courses course. His newest one is Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution.  He started this course last week, and he is nearly finished. He sits and watches these lectures for hours a day, and he never gets bored. I keep thinking we will get one he doesn’t like, but so far he has enjoyed them all.

(Note to self – before next school year you need to stock up on more courses for Tru.)

For French, Tru wanted to add an actual course to his Rosetta Stone, so last week I purchased Breaking the French Barrier. Tru has only worked through the first few lessons, but he seems to enjoy it. I think he is just happy to have a physical book for learning French. Rosetta was working for him, but it wasn’t enough. The two programs together will be more complete, at least in Tru’s mind.

Also this week Tru continued with his golf lessons. I am thinking about adding another day of lessons to the week. Tru isn’t sure how he feels about that. Some days he loves golf, and sometimes he is completely frustrated by it. I think that is a fairly normal reaction to the game.

And that is our week in review. If anyone missed my daughter’s song in the previous post I highly recommend you take a listen. She recorded all the parts to the song, and I think it came together wonderfully. Of course everything she does sounds great to me. After all, I am her mom….

Animal Study and Child-Led Learning

Decca filming ducklings for his first nature documentary.

Decca loves animals, and he has asked me if we could do an in-depth study of them again. When he was five he worked through WinterPromise’s Animals and Their Worlds. When he was six we did a major study of frogs. At seven we studied animals and their habitats. At eight I tried to focus more on history, but here he is at eight and a half asking me about animals again.

The science table is a little crowded this week with all of Decca's projects.

Decca  has a passion for animals, and I think he would be happy studying them for the rest of his school years. I am trying to make this study fun and interesting for him since he has already studied them before. I am using some of the resources we have from WinterPromise, and I am adding to those resources with new books and kits.

A notebooking page on his favorite frog.

We are on our second week of this study, and he is loving it. This week he set up two bird feeders,  built a model of a 4d frog, read two Catwings books, researched an animal, watched two documentaries, read a biology book, and worked through an animal activity book. I am impressed by all he has done.

Decca pursues his interests with an intensity that I wish I had. This is why student-led learning works for him. In addition to animals Decca loves Scooby Doo, so everyday he works on the Scooby Doo Fanon Wiki.

An image he created for his Scooby Fanon Page

He writes for hours a day on the Wiki, working on stories and also on his writing and typing skills. It is the same with animals. He has a passion for it, so I only need to get the resources, and then he takes off with it.

Following a child’s interests and passions is one of the benefits of homeschooling, and it works great with kids who are creative and obsessive about their interests. I am so appreciative of the fact that I can give Decca this type of education. I hope when he gets older he will look back on to these days with joy. I know I will.

If you want to check out some of the resources we are using please click here for my pinterest board that lists many of our materials.

Weekly Update

I haven’t posted an update in a while, but I felt inspired today to share what the kids have been working on. Maybe this desire stems from the truant officers visit yesterday. Something about that leaves me unsettled, and I feel that if I go over what we worked on this week I will feel better.

The girl and I went on many walks this week.

Autry was on a final schedule at her school this week, which meant she had Monday and Friday off, and she had half days on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I loved having her home so much. I miss her when she is at school, and I cherish the time when she is here. Because she is only in seventh grade she did not have too many finals. Most of her teachers opted to not give finals, which she was happy about. The two finals she had were in Jazz Dance (she got an A!) and pre-algebra.

Autry spent most of the week singing, taking photos, writing on her blog, and hanging out with her twin brother.

Decca has been working on a Monet study the last two weeks. He and I read several books about Monet, including Charlotte in Giverny, which he loved. He also spent the last two weeks exploring impressionism and trying to paint and sketch in that style.

We finished with his Monet study this week and started a unit study on Rocks and Minerals. He was excited to start digging for his dinosaur bones in his kit, and he can’t wait to start using his Rocks and Mineral kit.

Decca also spent much of his time this week working on math with Dreambox learning, working on his handwriting skills, and working on his writing skills. He is a contributor to the Scooby Doo fan wiki page, and he spent hours writing for this. I love that he can do something he is passionate about, and I can count it as school. It works out great for both of us.

Tru read A Single Shardand The Kite Fightersthis week, and he is working on an essay in which he is comparing and contrasting the two stories. He told me yesterday how much he enjoyed reading both books, and he has decided that Linda Sue Park is one of his favorite authors.

Tru is working his way through Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Economics. He is on chapter 15 now. He has taken two bridges and passed them both on the first try. I have a feeling that most of the information in here is review, but he wanted to get the book and work through it anyway. When he is finished working through this book (which he has read all the way through twice this week) he will start Saxon Algebra 1 4th Edition. I haven’t read too many reviews about the 4th edition, but Cathy Duffy gave it a positive review, so I thought we would try it out. I will let everyone know how it goes once he starts working on it.

Tru studied Ancient Korea this week to go along with his reading, and Autry is studying Ancient China in school, so I decided to take the kids to the Bowers Museum on Friday to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was a great field trip!

Autry taking some pics at the exhibit.

I have so many pictures I want to share from our day at Bowers. Not only was there the Warrior exhibit, but they had another interesting exhibit on Skrimshaw, which is the art of the American whaler.  I will have to make another post with all our photos from the day soon, but I will leave you with this short video on Decca’s favorite part of the exhibit. Make sure to watch to the end of the video to see a working miniature guillotine.

And that is our week in review.

Rethinking The School Year

I have spent the last two weeks reflecting on our school year and trying to decide where to go from here. Last month I pulled the boys out of the charter school they were in. The school was becoming a source of stress for me, and although it provided us with a good deal of funds to help pay for classes and curriculum, it was no longer worth it for us. The money came with too many restrictions and far too much testing, and neither the boys or I was interested in it any more.

What this means is we are enjoying a great deal of freedom with a lot less money. This is not a bad thing, actually I feel quite liberated, and the lack of money is causing me to reflect on what I want to accomplish with the boys and what my goals are.

The one thing I have figured out is that my youngest is a very creative learner who seems to grow and learn with no curriculum. He is a self-starter who does so much everyday that I really do not see a need to plan his school days. He will be unschooling for the rest of this year and most likely for the next few years, until it no longer works for him.

So what are some of the projects that my youngest son is working on? He is working on numerous scratch projects right now, and he is designing a line of characters that he is making with 3D Printing. He is writing several stories, one of them he is writing on the computer, so he is teaching himself how to type at the same time. He is composing songs on the piano, and he writes lyrics all day long. He recently discovered the Johnny Dixon series, so we are reading those together, and he is designing his own board game with his Grandma. He also works on math with DreamBox Learning, and he likes to watch history documentaries.

Part 1 of his game

and part 2. There will be 5 boards in all when he is done.

Now my oldest son is a completely different learner than my youngest. He isn’t so intense and creative. He is more intellectual and laid back. I have to nudge him a little, but with a small nudge he can accomplish so much. It is an interesting dynamic though because if I push too hard he shuts down, but if I push too little he doesn’t meet his potential.

My oldest son who I have spent much time thinking about.

This is my seventh year homeschooling him, and you would think I would have this all figured out by now, but I don’t. By the time I figure everything out he will probably be going off to college.

Anyway I am trying to encourage him to discover his interests while at the same time keeping him academically challenged. It is a balance that he and I are still trying to figure out, and we are also trying to figure out what to work on this year. He would never like to unschool, but at the same time he doesn’t want too much structure. He’s not very fond of most curriculum, but he grows bored and gets worried if we don’t follow some sort of plan with some academic books.

So what do I do with all this info? I am not sure yet. I am trying to come up with a plan, but I haven’t got anything concrete. I have some ideas, and I am going to spend the next few weeks making some final decisions. Then we will start our year. It will be his eighth grade year, and we will work from  mid-January 2012 to December 2013. It will be a new adventure, and it will be challenging and exciting. I can’t wait!


Weekly Update

Decca started a new unit in Moving Beyond the Page. It is a study of early explorers. He is reading Pedro’s Journal and studying navigation. He is enjoying this unit more than his last, which I am happy about. He especially loves his explorer cards, and he has already cut them out and put them in a case. He wants some bubble gum, so they seem like a collectible pack you would buy in a store. He did the same thing with his American Heroes cards that he had last year.

Decca is also working on Time4Learning again. After many years the company has finally updated some of their lessons, and I am so glad they did. Decca is enjoying them, and he spends over an hour a day on the work. I am so happy that we have re-discovered Time4Learning.

Decca working on Time4Learning

Decca also made more books this week. He is working on the Tio Chuy mysteries (named after his uncle, Tio Chuy).

The Tio Chuy Mysteries

Tru is plugging along with all his work.  I am ecstatic that everything is working out, and I think this may be his best year ever. I can’t tell you how amazed I am that he is still plugging along with Writing With Skill. It is amazing that my reluctant writer has become so confident in his writing.

A first draft of a writing assignment from Writing with Skill. Ignore his heading, it was wishful thinking. 😉

Grandpa had the boys were out at the driving range this week. Decca is getting better every time he goes, but I think he should be wearing his shoes. Tru at least has on some flip-flops. You can tell they are my kids. Autry didn’t wear shoes consistently until she was 9. definitely a homeschooler….

Autry has had a few good weeks at school. She has her first vocal concert tonight which she is looking forward to. She lost her voice yesterday morning, but she rested it for a while and got it back thankfully.

Autry on the way to OCHSA with her "friend" Hillman MacMillman (named by Decca).

She is enjoying the creativity and open-mindedness found at the school. The students at OCHSA seem to have few rules, and the environment supports the kids and their creativity. This week in dance they are learning the routine to Thriller for a dance they will do on Halloween.

In science she worked on a plant cell project. Projects like this are not our strong suit, but she had fun making her edible cell.

Other happenings this week…

Autry and I spent some quality time together. We went out all day Saturday, and it was great to spend some time with her.

Tru and I also had some quality time together. We went out to dinner together and then came home and watched a movie. One-on-one time is so important at this age.

Tru couldn't help sharing his feelings about the math on Time4Learning. He felt they made this problem too complicated and that everyone should be able to add up 50+50+50 on their own.

And that is our week in review.

What my son does while listening to Story of the World

Tru listens to Story of the World everyday on his computer. He usually does something else, like drawing or messing with Scratch, while he is listening. Today I looked over and saw this.

He downloaded this ninja from a math lesson in Time4Learning, and then he added a SoTW image to it. He then animated it’s mouth, so it looked like it was reading to him.

Then a few minutes later he had changed it to this.

Multitasking, another great skilled learned in homeschool today.

Weekly Update

This is me happy.

It is funny how long it can take us find our groove each year. We have been working on school this year since mid-August, and I feel like this is the first week that has gone great. I am finally used to my daughter’s public school schedule, older son is now happy with all his curriculum/classes, and my youngest has all his school materials for the year. I am also feeling better after being sick off and on for weeks. The result of all of this is that our week went very smoothly, and I feel like we are finally on a decent schedule that works for everyone.

Tru has a good schedule going now. He wakes up and does all his computer work. For him that is watching CNN student news, completing Time4Learning, working on Rosetta Stone French, and spending an hour on AOPS prealgebra.

He is working on problems from the online class. He goes through roughly six pages of scrap paper a day on these problems. They are hard but he enjoys the challenge.

In the afternoon he works on Writing with Skill, Spelling, and Sonlight 7. He was doing Moving Beyond the Page for a while, but it was just too much busy work. Hours of busy work to complete each day, which at this age is just not practical or necessary. (Is it really necessary at any age?)

In addition to all of that he is still working through Middle School Chemistry. We are not going through this as fast as I  originally planned, but we are getting to it every week, which is good. This week the lesson was Moving Molecules in a Solid. It was another good lesson, and the boys seemed to like it. Of course they would love anything that involved fire.

Decca taking a turn heating up the metal ball.

We had to use a candle to heat up the metal, as out burner was broken. It took a long time to heat up.

Tru demonstrating what happens when the ball is heated up.

In addition to science, Decca started a new unit in Moving Beyond The Page. He is reading Abel’s Island and studying animals and adaptations. He likes studying animals, and he has created several of his own animals to go along with the study, but he does not like the book Abel’s Island. I am going to try to read it with him and see if we can get through it. If he truly is not enjoying it we will probably start another book next week.

Abel's Island is on Discovery Education. I tried to get him to watch it, but he lost interest quickly.

A sample of what he worked on in MBTP this week.

In math he continued working through Life of Fred, Singapore’s Challenging Word Problems, and Dr. Wright’s Kitchen Table Math: Book 2. We read about five chapters this week in LoF, did about ten word problems, and worked through three lessons in Kitchen Table Math. We aren’t spending a great deal of time on math, but the quality is so high that I do not worry about the quantity.

One lesson this week was learning how to check his answers using expanded form.

Also this week:

We took a field trip to California Scenario.

We read Dragon’s Milk.

Decca created some monsters for a Scooby Doo contest.

Tru and Autry worked on various Scratch games.

Decca played flag football.

And we made time to watch the turkey vultures in the sky. It was a great week.

Less is More

I have been homeschooling for over seven years and I have learned so much in that time. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that less is more, especially when you are homeschooling a young child up to age nine or ten. I see so many parents stress about these early years, and it is so unnecessary. I find myself telling parents over and over again “less curriculum, less scheduling, less school, more read-alouds, more outdoor time and more art and music”.

The homeschool curriculum industry is huge, and we as homeschoolers should never forget that. Homeschooling is big business, and homeschoolers are willing to spend a good deal of money on the right curriculum for their students. I know this because I have spent more money than I would like to admit on various math, science, history, and language arts materials over the years, and I have seen other parents do the same. After all, homeschooling is a big responsibility, and we as parents do not want to mess it up.

But is it all necessary? Do five and six-year-olds need to be sitting at a desk for hours a day? Do eight and nine-year olds need to be working even more hours? And do parents need to be stressed by all this? I don’t think so.

Instead young children should have time to explore nature

and to discover the joy of reading.

There should be plenty of time to discover passions

And to play dress up.

My kids are getting older. The twins are 12, and my youngest is 8. I miss them when they were young. When the most important part of our day was snuggling on the couch reading Five Children and It and drinking hot chocolate. These years go by so quick. Enjoy them while you can.