Homeschooling On Facebook

I’ve been active on Squidoo for seven years now and recently was given the title of Happy Homeschooler Contributor. That basically means that I’m in charge of growing the homeschool niche on the site, promoting lenses, etc. To help with that, I built a Happy Homeschooler Facebook page and have been having a lot of fun with it.

This blog carries a bit of expat life, a bit of homeschooling info, a touch of cooking and a whole lot of parenting/personal stuff, so I find myself focusing on specifics on other forums, such as my Gourmet Mama site and Facebook page and now the Happy Homeschooler page. There may or may not be a homeschooling blog in the future to go with the page. I’m still working on getting a little balance in all of this.

If you’re homeschooling, feel free to pop on over and give the page a like! I share fun activities, homeschool resources and link to other pages and blogs on homeschooling there.

Simplifying My Life: Time4Learning

It’s hard to work at home and homeschool and finding balance has been a bit of a challenge for me. However, about halfway through the year this year, I decided to try Time4Learning, an online curriculum for all grades. Since my boys are a tad obsessed with computers, I figured it might be a good way to get them the basics and then we could do other things on the side to reinforce the lessons.

Time4Learning covers all the main subjects, Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. For older grades, they also have Art, but my boys are still too young for it. The interface is very easy to work with and Dorian is able to navigate by himself quite easily. You, as the parent, can set the amount of time the student has to work before they can use the playground, a section of the site that lets kids play mostly educational games. You can also set the playground time and it automatically switches off when the time is up.

Now that we have been using the site for several months, I figured I’d give a review of it.

Pros

  • Tracking. Everything is tracked, from lessons the child has done to their quiz scores. This means you can print the records out and have transcripts for each year of school.
  • Planning. You plan out the school year by entering dates and the system will let you know how many lessons in each subject need to be done on a weekly basis.
  • Flexibility. You decide which subjects your child studies and whether this is a full time curriculum or just a supplemental one. If you just want to brush up on Math skills, you can easily do this.
  • Clear explanations. One of the things I like best about this curriculum is that they have videos and characters to explain things to kids. They are shown the explanation again if they have trouble with one of the questions.
  • Challenging. The stuff that Dorian is learning in Grade 2 is fairly advanced and it really challenges him to learn and pay attention, instead of just cruising, which he tends to do. However, you can also access one level above and one below the grade your child is studying at. So, if they are lacking some of the basics while in Grade 3, you can jump back to lessons in Grade 2. Or, if they need more stimulation, try Grade 4 lessons. This worked well for us in Science and Social Studies, since I had Dorian go back and do Grade 1 before doing the Grade 2 lessons. He finished both grades fairly quickly as they have fewer lessons.
  • Rewards. Many of the questions are done like games, so kids get rewarded for doing well. It’s still learning, but it’s fun! Also, once the kid has done their schoolwork, they can go play in the Playground!
  • Quizzes. I like that there are periodic tests to see how well kids are doing. Dorian has had to redo a couple of lessons because he did poorly on quizzes, showing me that he hadn’t properly learned everything.

Cons

  • It’s not for everyone. Dorian does extremely well on Time4Learning. Dante did not do well. We tried it for a month (you get a free trial for 30 days), but it just wasn’t clicking for Dante and he was getting frustrated. He learns best right now with more active methods. However, this seems to be the best way for Dorian to learn.
  • It’s not free. You pay $20 a month for the site, which is a little pricey, but still cheaper than sending him to school . . . or buying more expensive curriculum. If you have a second child, there is a discount for their account.
  • The planner is still a work in progress. While the planner has recently been updated and is much nicer, it still shows the original plan you come up with. If you end up taking time off, your planner is not accurate anymore.
  • You still need to do offline work. Sometimes, you have to print out a page of work for the kids to do. This is a bit of a pain and I could do without it, but it is good for them to work with a pen and paper, too.
  • Skipping doesn’t work. You get a check on each lesson as you complete it. Unfortunately, if you decide to skip a lesson, the system will always jump back to that one and you have to manually find where you actually are. This means you have to go through all the lessons, even if you don’t really want to.

So far, this has proven to be an excellent solution for us. It allows me to focus on Dante’s learning or work while Dorian is getting school done. I’m always in the same room, so I can help him if he does get bogged down, which rarely happens. Dorian really seems to enjoy learning this way and I rarely hear complaints, which is amazing, since he detests having to interrupt his playing to get an education. :)

Also, since studying online, he’s boosted his reading skills quite a bit and is now reading at a Grade 2 level, which we weren’t sure he would be able to do just a few months ago. Definitely an improvement.

If you’re interested in trying out Time4Learning, they have a 30 day free trial, which you can access here. If you do decide to sign up, I’d appreciate it if you put my name (Genesis Davies) in the referral section, but it’s not mandatory.

DIY Magnetic Board Games

Things have been hectic around here lately with school, work and assorted life wrenches. For the most part, Dorian does his schoolwork online, but yesterday, he was learning about magnets, so I decided it was a good time to do some offline work.

We dug out all the magnets we have and tested poles and checked which items in our house have iron in them. We also discussed the very important experiment Dante did a couple of years ago when he put animal magnets on a computer screen.

After playing around with these, we came up with an idea . . . why not make a game?

magnetic game

This is the space game that Dante and I made. You use a magnet under the board to pull the little astronaut along the path through the universe, without getting off track.

space magnet game

Dorian wanted to make a jungle version to play AFTER the space one. “This is the planet that the astronaut lands on!”

jungle magnet game

As you can see, these are crazy simple to make. We used thin cardboard from a tea box and a notebook cover. We then drew a path, added decor in the way of drawings, stickers and cutouts and then we colored them. The little people were made from paper stuck to a bit of magnetic tape and then cut out. You could also glue them to a small paperclip, but I happened to have the tape on hand.

You’ll also need a magnet underneath. We found that most magnets worked well, but round ones can tend to flip the little player around because of the poles. So you might end up going off track.

Here’s what I used in these fun little games (they literally bought me over an hour of peace while they played!!):

Science Experiments

We try to start every day with a science experiment or art project. This helps the boys get into school mode and keeps things exciting. It’s fun for me, too! Here are a few of the experiments we’ve done since the beginning of school.

Naked Eggs
We put an egg in vinegar and left it for a couple of days and the shell dissolved.

Baking Soda Cookie Sheet
I gave them a cookie sheet covered in baking soda and then let them drip colored vinegar onto it. We also tried some lime juice to see if other acids have the same effect.

We’ve also done mold gardens, but I don’t have final pics of those yet. We also got a microscope and have been looking at a lot of things under it. It’s not a great one and has no base (we found it at the paca), but it works! When my sister comes down, I hope to get a better one.

For the Homeschoolers and Home Learners

We recently watched Frankenweenie and the boys LOVED it! It fits all their interest in monsters and zombies, so it was a good movie for them to watch (not to mention it got them interested in learning more about Frankenstein). I just got this promotion in my other email . . . the one for my business blog and thought it might be something some of my readers would be interested in.

Download Frankenweenie Science Activity Pack

The pack is designed for Grades 5-8, but I think we will be doing some of the experiments, too, since they look fun and interesting.

Plans for 2013

This month, I’ve been making plans for 2013. I’ve set some serious goals for myself this coming year and to make sure I can really work on them, I’m trying to set up everything that I can right now.

School: This is one area that we are really getting serious in this year. Dorian is starting Grade 2 in January and Dante will be in Grade 1. This last school year, I had the option of giving Dante coloring and stuff while I worked with his brother. This coming year, I will need to be even more organized, especially with Dominic no longer content to sit in his exersaucer and watch. So I’ve been planning out the school year and collecting supplies.

Work: I don’t have work work anymore. I’m focusing almost entirely on my own projects and only taking the occasional small side job for old clients. So, 2013 is an exciting year on that front. I’ll be working hard on Squidoo, as well as putting out more books on Kindle.

Since I want to get a LOT done (don’t I always) in the new year, I’ve been using December to work on outlines for books and keyword research for Squidoo lenses. That means I can just focus on the actual writing, starting in January. Hopefully that will make everything go faster.

Of course, there is the usual goal to lose weight, which did actually happen this year, but not as much as I would have hoped. More exercise is definitely on the schedule in 2013 and it should be easier since I am far more flexible in my time.

What are your goals for 2013?

Balloon Fidget Tutorial

A while back, I mentioned that we use fidgets to help the boys stay focused during school. Dante in particular is very hyper and needs to move. He’s constantly hopping on and off his chair and running around the room during school, so it’s good to have something he can handle and play with while listening to lessons. One of the fidgets we use is this balloon fidget, which is super easy to make!

To start, you’ll need:

2 balloons in different colors
Corn, rice, salt, flour, or other filler of your choice
A funnel
Scissors

balloon fidgets

Take one balloon and blow it up, then let the air out. This stretches it out a bit.

Cut the ring off the balloon.

Stick the funnel in there and funnel in about 3/4-1 cup of whatever you’re filling with. You may have to push it in once gravity stops helping.

Now cut the tube part of the other balloon off. This doesn’t have to be too precise, but you don’t want too much narrowing of the balloon here.

Now put this balloon over the other one, making sure that the first balloon’s opening is at the back of the second one. It will be a tight fit!

Presto! A fidget that is fun to squeeze and mash and twist in your hands while listening to a lesson!

All About Me Books

The boys did some books about themselves for Social Studies in School. I couldn’t find any that worked, so I just made my own. It was interesting to see what they came up with! Dante can’t really write yet, so I helped him out, but here are their books.

They had to draw a picture of themselves on the front of the book. Dorian is obsessed with measurements at the moment, as you can see. I believe that is a sword fight going on in the thought bubble. Dante’s picture is him thinking about kissing me. :)

This next one is inside Dorian’s book.

Everyone in his family picture is neatly measured.

This one is Dante’s interior:

We had a little mix-up with the sister question, since Dante figured Zanelle counted as a sister. I like that his picture of our house includes a bunch of people. For him, home is family. And in the family picture, I’m handing a sleeping Dominic off to Papa.

This last page was fun! Dante had issues with writing the answers, so I helped out. In case you’re wondering, Pepsi is not an every day thing around here, hence the favorite status . . . it’s a treat.

Dorian wants to be a ninja when he grows up. Dante wants to be an artist. No 9-5 jobs for these boys! (Actually, I’m not sure they even get the concept of a 9-5 job, since we have never worked normal jobs. They think it’s perfectly normal to play music on weekends or write articles at random times throughout the day.)

When Kids Don’t Go to School

My in-laws are convinced that we are simply letting the boys run wild and keeping them out of school because of Dorian’s health issues. This is partly because the boys finish faster than they would in school and can be found running around outdoors mid-morning. While they couldn’t be further from the truth, this belief led to a rather funny occurrence the other day.

Dorian went off to play with Zanelle one afternoon and she wanted to play school. This *may* have been prompted by my MIL who, I’m sure, would assume that a 10 year old could teach my 6 year old better than I obviously could, what with him outside playing all day. I have no proof, however.

Anyway. A little later, Irving received a phone call from his mother, who was STUNNED that Dorian could do math. Zanelle had written out a bunch of math problems and he’d answered them all with minimal effort, correctly. Everyone was amazed. Imagine, Dorian was so smart he just picked this up out of thin air!

Upon hearing what his son had done, Irving replied, “Well, yeah, that’s what he’s studying in school, addition and subtraction.” Ha.

We shook our heads over his family assuming that we weren’t even attempting to educate our kids and went on with the day. A little later, Dorian came in, grumpily. “That Zanelle wants to play school all day and I already DID my school! I’m not playing with her anymore.”

Shortly afterward, Zanelle came to show me what Dorian had done and it was my turn to be surprised. Instead of the simpler problems that he’s been working on in school, he’d filled out double digit math problems like 34 plus 19. Correctly. That’s at the end of his book, which he will be finishing in November.

So . . . I guess he DID pick some stuff up out of thin air.