Sunday, July 26, 2009

~The World of Catalogs, for Home Learning and Home Living ~

I just LOVE Catalogs don't you? I can spend hours upon hours with a cup of coffee, reading tidbits here and there on wonderful books and items to use for learning and home making.

I have come to realize we cannot possibly purchase all these wonderful things we see, however, I have realized, that we can learn about books on topics we might need or are interested in. We can then look toward our lending libraries or make a wish list to save for a particular item.

All in all, I really find catalogs a great help. By reading educational catalogs especially, we can get ideas for teaching concepts in all subject areas.. when the author or publishers gives samples shots of a particular concept we can learn to modify this to meet our own needs and make up our own activities and exercises and this can be really alot of fun to do.

I have compiled a list of catalogs that I have subscribed to now and again: (the following are all free catalogs you can either download online or send away for in the mail)

Teaching and Homeschooling Catalogs:

Cobblestone and Crickets

Everything Elementary

Castle Moyle

China Berry

Cottonwood Press

Curriculum Associates

Love to Learn

Rainbow Resource

Memoria Press

Seton Homeschooling

Winter Promise

Beautiful Feet Books

Homeschooling Books

Home Science Tools

Alpha Omega Publications

Remedia Publications

Christian Books Distributors

The Teaching Company

EPS Publishing

PCI Education

The Book Peddler -added
(thank you for the recommendation Katie :) )

A few of these are new to me and I just got a couple in for the Fall, so I will enjoy flipping through to see what is new and perhaps get more ideas. :)

Some ask how can I get ideas from catalogs, well for me, I kind of get ideas from everywhere. I tend to be a bit weird like that I suppose. For example if I am reading about a book that talks about a certain topic I may go online to research the author and other books they have written, I might explore the topic a bit further and the history and science or math behind the topic and make notes for reference when we learn that subject.
It seems to work well and is a great way to keep things interesting and fresh.

When looking at samples, I may even get ideas for a notebooking page and tweak things to suit my boys interests and strengths .

I enjoy mixing things up quite a bit, I like to keep things creative and hope to share more ideas about homeschooling creatively this Fall once our studies are in full swing.

Until then, I am collecting ideas from these catalogs, links and resources to share with my boys for their learning at home.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Subject Study for Summer: Our Writing~

We use Institute for Excellence in Writing. I found out about this program early on in our learning. This program has helped my boys in ways I never could have imagined.

I was a bit concerned because looking at their products could be a bit overwhelming and the program seemed quite intense. I am glad I decided to make the choice to use IEW.

We have moved very slowly throughout the units, which for us is just fine. Allowing them to enjoy and learn at the same time is much more important than finishing something we "have to get done", where all along with this kind of writing program the boys are able to work at their own pace and experiment with the different kinds of writing.
Here is the on-line video catalog:

My youngest absolutely is in love with this program. He is still working on a huge piece of writing he started back in the late Fall of this year titled "Mouse Island", based on the fable "The Mouse and the Weasels", he decided to create his own "version" and has been going at it ever since.

My older son seems to get tied up a bit in the sequential mechanics of the program so for him we make lessons quite short and to the point and do little chunks daily, for him this has worked. I did however consider, (where not every learner is the same) changing writing programs but after reviewing and discussing the advantages and disadvantages, we both agreed to remain with IEW and move on toward the other programs for upper middle and highschool levels once he finishes.

IEW has a families e group that to me has been such a gift of encouragement and support. The moderators are continually and consistently helping children who need help with the program or with writing/spelling in general. Their thoughtfulness, insight and help has been to use a real blessing. The groups links and files sections is continuously updated and offer a great deal of resources and guidance for the program.

Whenever someone asks us what do we use for writing I tell them about IEW and then refer them to the IEW group, because it is really there that you can get a full, accurate picture, of how the program teaches and progresses.

This is really a great program to check out if you have been struggling with other writing programs. For our boys IEW is what we will continue to use for our writing in our home.

Writing Samples:

Our 10 year old: The Little Man and the Magic Toad ( derived from The Boy and the Nuts)

There was one little man who was walking in the forest. He was looking for a pitcher of m&m's. He found it and reached for the pitcher. He grabbed and held the m&m's. He pulled and pulled and his hand got stuck. He tried and tried to get his hand out, but it did not work, so, he waited and waited until a young magical toad came. He was a tall green man, with a tall purple star hat and a purple star coat. The toad whispered quietly, " sometimes you have to give up a little to get what you want".

Then the toad quickly disappeared. The little man did what the toad said and let go of some of the m&m's and it worked! The little man said "who is that?", but on this day forward, he never would tell anyone about what had happened.

Our 12 year old: The Boy and the Purple Pickle ( also derived from The Boy and the Nuts)

One day a boy saw a pitcher full of candy. He took a fistful of candy from the pitcher, and his arm became stuck. Suddenly, he bursted into a peanut! He was shocked!! A magic purple pickle appeared with a mustach and an old singing Barbers hat, who said " Son, if you want to go back to normal you have to let go of some of the candy", so the boys did and POOF ~! He was back to normal~ and the pickle said " Sometimes you have to give up things in life to get what you wish", then he quietly disappeared.

Hmmm, I know what your thinking what imaginations they have... they seem to like purple and magical things that disappear...... they certainly enjoy their "creative" writing. :)

Plans for this year? to write more and more :) and I have a surprise for them, something new from IEW~ All Things Fun and Fascinating. and Fables, Myths and Fairytales.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Subject Study for Summer: Grammar ~

Grammar for us was probably one of the hardest areas of our home learning to address. There are so many programs out there and allowing yourself to read all the reviews and listen to everyone's experiences and opinions can be quite overwhelming, at least it was definitely interesting for me.

We tried a few different programs, but I just couldnt find what we needed. Out of complete desperation, I decided to purchase a few good solid English and Grammar Resources and use these as my spine to help guide me along our way.

I completed on my own a grammar sequence page.(this can be found here you will see it list on the left) Quite extensive and weeks of work and research.. at the end I was quite pleased with my work.

Because our MOTL 5 a days for math worked so well I decided since math can be somewhat sequentially taught and built upon then I may be able to attempt to do the same with Grammar. So I made a Grammar in "5" template to use for daily practice of new concepts, much like we did for math.

This worked considerably well and along with our daily reading I would make copies of excerpts from their books and they would label the different parts of speech and work on usage right from their reading.. this was where I realized I found something that might actually help and create an integrated learning and above all a more natural way for them to do their grammar that they were struggling to understand.

I was later recommended a book by Ruth Beechick, (which I have mentioned a time or two before) "You Can Teach Your Child Successfully". While reading this book and understanding how Dr. Beechick explained teaching Grammar and Usage, I became so excited ~ :) I felt like someone was talking "my language", if that makes any sense at all. I finally found it, ( ch. 6 You Can Teach Your Child Successfully)our way to learn Grammar and realized I had chosen several things that Ruth Beechick recommends and had never even heard about this wonderful educator.

In Chapter 6 Dr. Beechick gives examples of how to take an excerpt from literature and explains how to teach from that excerpt that integrates, spelling, writing, grammar, punctuation and thinking skills. I tried this and it worked so perfect for them, even for the first time.

Here is an excerpt that really struck me while reading Chapter 7 Mechanics of Writing; " For a child who misses more than an occasional punctuation mark, dictation exercises are extremely helpful. Dictate a paragraph, sentence by sentence, for the child to write. He should listen carefully to your expression and decide by that what kind of punctuation to use. After writing, spend time comparing the child's writing with the original and analyze differences in punctuation. For wholistic learning, you should also look for problems in spelling, capitalization, indenting and anything else." ~ Dr. Ruth Beech, "You Can Teach Your Child Successfully".

When we first started this I began very slowly since the boys had never really done much dictation. In school this was never taught. I would only do sentences in the beginning and short paragraphs for my older son so as not to overwhelm them.. I reminded myself that I wanted this to be a gentle way to teach and more will come in time. Something magical happened. They finally began putting the pieces of grammar and punctuation together. We were finding success.

I decided to find out as much as I could about Dr. Beechick and I still refer back to her book very often to remind myself of certain key methods I wish to continue to use to teach the boys.

I then decided to jump in and begin teaching grammar and usage the best way I thought would work through books. Real books and literature.

I heard about a program this year that seemed to be mentioned often while speaking of grammar and Ruth Beechick. That program was

Learning Language Arts Through Literature.

LLATL is written by several authors and was edited by Dr. Beechick herself. After speaking with Debbie Strayer, one of the programs authors, I had to have this program. I explained to Debbie how well my boys had been doing with what I had tried and she helped me decide where to place them in the program in lieu of their learning disabilties.

We are starting this program this Fall and I had finally had a chance to look through it and cannot get over how comprehensive the program is. I love the short daily lessons and integrated reading activities.

I found this program to be the first program of its kind. One that I could pick up look it over and add it to their cubbies. That is that.. it is all there and I had to smile of my great choice I have made.

I am sure there will still be some struggles in the area of grammar, but with patience and consistency and allowing them to work at their own pace as we move along, I believe we will find success and even enjoy Grammar learning in our home.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Subject Study for Summer: Spelling and Vocabulary~

Spelling is an area that I found I needed to research a great deal in order to find the right programs for my two boys.

I decided quite early on that I did not agree with many of the spelling programs that I had seen. Where it copied how children learn spelling in compulsory schools. I did not want this kind of program where you have 15 new words on Monday and each day do an activity with them and then take a test on Friday.

To me, this is a mere convenience for the schools and teachers in this kind of setting, and it was one I intended to do away with in our home learning.

I had used this kind of program earlier on in our home education and found the boys would forget the words if they were not using them or they would get all of them correct because they were words they already knew. ( I realized I had a real dilemna and a program like this would not work).

While researching programs (which probably took me a good four months to do) I made up our own spelling program, that was specifically geared for each child, according to their Reading Program.

I found that it made no sense to teach a child to spell a word they could not read yet. If a child cannot decode the word, how can they be expected to spell it?

I used color coding for consonants and for vowels and vowel digraphs etc. I saw dramatic results quickly after only a few weeks. We made up exercises to go along with their words and they seemed to enjoy the change of pace, from using their spelling workbooks.

the original activity spelling sheet can be found here along with original lists that coincides with the Abecedarian Reading Program we use:

After much reading and speaking with specialists and educators I believe I have found the right combination for learning spelling in our home.

Each child has their own individual strengths and weaknesses. I quickly realized each child would need their own individualized program.

I took time to consider what programs and methods were working for the boys and how I could use what I had observed to help me find the right programs for them and for their needs and abilities.
Our writing program we use is IEW ( Institute for Excellence in Writing), and I had been listening to a video of Andrew Pudewa speak about spelling and how learners actually learn to spell and it sounded very similiar to how my older son needed to learn his spelling. I quickly purchased the Spelling and the Brain DVD and this helped clarify my understandings and helped me choose exactly which program that would help my oldest homeschooler. *if you click on Spelling and the Brain, scroll below to view a video excerpt of the DVD*
The program is called Phonetic Zoo. It is a heavily auditory program and my son is VERY much an auditory learner.
To learn more about the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Program you can join the IEW families yahoo group and ask and learn more about it there. They also have write ups and brochures in their files that help.
The program basically begins at a 4th grade level for spelling. It also has placements tests which I found very valuable when considering where to place my son. It has been very helpful and he has really been successful in his spelling.
I actually plan to make a mini-office of the program for him to use as a reference. We will have this ready when our studies begin this Fall.

Our youngest was a much harder fit for a spelling program. While he was successful I could see a need since his reading had been taking off with his new program and his writing was really going well, I felt he needed memory hooks to help him spell and reminders for certain words. He was not at the level that Phonetic Zoo began at and my youngest, while heavily auditory, also tends to be quite visual. I needed something much more multi-sensory and while Phonetic Zoo is multi-sensory he needed a bit more OG based with his spelling remediation.
The program I chose for him was All About Spelling. What a program! This is a very sequentially, OG, multi sensory based program for struggling spellers. It uses color coded magnets for spelling with very little writing, which is a nice change of pace. It works slowly with spelling rules, calling them "tips" which I liked... I do not use the words Rules for my youngest.. for him, rules are not meant to be broken, ( in spelling there are as many exceptions as there are rules) so, tips are a much more accurate word for us to use when learning spelling rules and patterns.
We have been working with this program and I have found it to be a wonderful fit for him and his spelling through this program and the use of dictation and written narration.
I can hardly imagine changing programs for their spelling. I believe the only way I would is if I was to go back to creating our own Spelling Program again, but feel they are right where they need to be for our spelling at home.

Vocabulary is usually where I raise some eyebrows. :) We do not use a vocabulary program. I dont think they work and they never helped me or my boys when they were in school.
What do we do to learn vocabulary it is really quite simple. We read.
* I read aloud to them and we will stop at times or now, the boys stop me and ask what a word mean.
* We do notebooking pages and when we do we might add some "new words" and write down the meaning of the word.

I have always found that learning vocabulary in context is the very best way to learn to speak correctly and to use words in their appropriate setting. My boys each have HIGH vocabulary due mostly to how I speak to them, by the words I use and we read all kinds of books from young readers to adult literature.
One thing I am going to try this year since their skills have sharpened is to challenge them a bit more and when there is a word they are not sure of I may at times have them guess and then look up the word to see how close they may have been. I think this will be fun and had gotten the idea from Karen Andreola's book Charlotte Mason Companion.

I am not sure we will do much more with vocabulary except this year they might be diving a bit deeper as I challenge them more in this area, so I believe our notebooking pages and oral narration will cover our new endeavors in this area of learning vocabulary at home. :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Subject Study for Summer: Reading, in our Home~

Throughout the summer I am hoping to be able to outline how we learn in our Home. My plan is to continue to explain how I manage my teaching in our home and for my different learners.
Language Arts is a fairly broad subject. It encompasses Reading, Spelling, Vocabulary, Writing, Grammar and Usage~ so instead of writing about Language Arts as a whole subject, I plan to break it down into chunks to make things easier.

I thought I would begin with Reading. For us, Reading, in and of itself , is a vast subject, believe it or not, and I have to pause just to think about what exactly and how I will begin to explain how we do Reading in our home.
An article and book review I found by Ruth Beechick on Learning to Read, and some ways I helped my son, even "before" we started our remediation ~

Reading in our home looks different for each of my boys, the reason for this is that they each learn differently. Both boys have been diagnosed with Dyslexia and although many will not be interested or may be bothered by such labels, for me this was an important piece to our puzzle.

I began researching Reading Remediation Programs for the boys trying to pinpoint which will be beneficial and the most cost effective. I found that so many people who also had dyslexic children felt that a particular program that helped their child, would most certainly help mine. They would cite statistics and research that had been done on various Orton Gillingham programs. I listened and read and read some more.

We tried one OG based Program that was not a match for my boys.. it emphasized their weaknesses and I found that in doing so, we would not see progress. Generally, I have found and in speaking with authors and doctors of programs that when attempting a new reading program the general rule is to give it at least 6-8 weeks time and see how things are doing. If at that time things are remaining the same and frustration is setting in, then perhaps it is best to move forward toward another program that might be better suited for your learner.

I found a Phono Graphix based program called ABeCeDarian. I began asking questions to some real concerns I had, over whether or not it would be effective with my boys. ABeCeDarian has a yahoo group that is very helpful. Dr. Michael Bend, the educator and author of the program helps parents and educators help their children to read. The individuals on this group are a combination of teachers, reading specialists, academic therapists, home educators and various other therapists like SLP's and OT's, that attempt to provide remediation and support for struggling readers. I cannot say enough kind words about these individuals. (and they all know who I am talking about, smile) Through time, support and understanding I am helping our boys learn to read consistently, quickly and correctly for their learning needs and abilities.

This program is quite unique, based around the Phono Graphix model it is an outstanding alternative from the OG based programs, if your learner is still struggling with reading and learning to decode.

We begin our reading with usually a few pages of instruction (teaching time) working from our AbeCeDarian Program. These are usually quick and very fluent, a few days a week we also will do fluency drills which have helped the boys dramatically and they LOVE these, where before I could not get them to be timed on anything.. now they try to beat their own scores when they try a list... it is really fun to do and never "feels" like a chore.. at least not to them, although I have to admit after two fluency drills they like to keep going to beat their own scores I get king of tired of it.. and want to end but not them~ typical boys, make anything a competition and you have hooked them.
*A powerpoint, "processes of learning to read":

* more information on fluency and automaticity:

After we finish our quick teaching time we usually do our quiet reading for my 12 year old where he will go and settle in a comfy chair and pull out his favorite book he started. My younger son will take out his book and we will both settle into our den on the comfy couch and he will read orally to me for about 15 minutes.. some days we may go a bit over if we are at a good part of the book, other days it may be shorter, all depending on the intensity of the work we did previously for AbeCeDarian.

Afterwards it is back together for oral narration about what they read. This really has helped their comprehension practice. Some days we will also do written narration on their notebook pages for their binders and they enjoy this and make pictures of certain points in the story.

Gone are the days of "read the story and answer the questions". My boys detested this and yes, I admit at first I was a bit skeptical about using "only" narration but I tried going back and doing the story questions etc.. and it just never worked as well as the oral and written narration.

We also let the boys draw pictures or make comics for their narrations as well, a kind of graphic novel if you will, they LOVE this and I feel it is quite good to do since I have two "budding animators" in my midst :) By the way, this can be done for all subjects like history and also science and even math.

We also try and keep a read-a-loud going at our house. One that comes to mind quickly that was a real hit was when we did "Mr. Poppers Penguins". I purchase books for each of the boys and one for myself and they follow along as I read.. we also do popcorn reading with this as an exercise to help with tracking and it makes things quite fun and more interesting.

{the above link for popcorn reading is a few ideas as to how it can be done, here is how we decided to do popcorn reading to help with tracking for my youngest. In the story Mr. Poppers Penguins, the Penguin will occasionally "pipe in " and make a few silly sounds and my youngest was very interested in these silly penguin sounds, (I noticed as he would comment on them and mimic the penguin) so I decided each time the penguin was going to say something I would pause and look up at my youngest who would read the word and come back with the silly sound~ it was real fun and I noticed it created for him a kind of intensity to the reading that had not been there before by forcing him to track my reading with his finger and keep up with the story to know when it was the penguins "turn" to talk. } :)

Read a louds:

"Remind everyone around you that children do learn during the joy of hearing a purposeful read aloud. Now is the only time we have and we must give our children the best we have to give." ~ by Reba M. Wadsworth, a retired Elementary Principal

Reading out loud to the boys really seemed to bring back a love or books and reading. One book that really helped me get started on reading out loud to my boys was: The Read-ALoud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

Jim Trelease's Home Page

We often read at night to the boys but never had I thought or considered the importance of reading to them while teaching. I never had teachers read to me once I entered into the older elementary grades ( grade 2 and up). I missed it, and knew how much I enjoyed listening to the stories in class. It seemed to me looking back, that the stories I had read to me, stayed with me, they became my favorites. I can't really explain why but they are. I loved hearing the words and would make images in my mind as the teachers words flowed off the page. I just loved it can you tell? It was as though it was a gift to me..

Literature Studies~

We found literature studies this year were alot of fun. Currently we are working on a unit based on the Box Car Children from Homeschool Share.

When we are reading we will dive a bit deeper into the story and explore things - similiar to a literary anaylsis but on a much younger level.

Some resources I use to help me along with this are:

Homeschool Share

Homeschool Helper

Glencoe Literature Library


World Wide School

Sleeping Bear Press

Carole Hurst Literature Site

TIP: Traffic Lights are a help; problems with "run on reading". When my youngest began reading a bit more quickly I noticed he would not stop for the punctuation marks. I recently had been talking with a homeschool mum about this same exact scenario and I explained what I thought up to help this with my youngest.

Use the punctuation marks as tools which is how they are to be used in reading. Think of them as traffic lights or signals to give us "symbols" as to what to do next.

For periods we would picture a red traffic light, meaning we need to stop at the end of the sentence.

A comma, could be the yellow traffic light where we might need to pause, just to take a breathe and be cautious for what is to come. The same for a question mark.

For the exclamation mark this would be green for "go" .

I saw that my son, being a more visual learner picked up on this right away and decided in a few of our readers, I hi-lited the punctuation at the end of the sentences. This has helped him quite a bit and slowed the rapid run on reading he would do by quite a bit. :)

The boys have taken to reading and finally enjoying their books, often we will find them exploring books on our coffee tables that strike their interest. We have books of all kinds all over our home. Our coffee table has the large hard cover books you often find on coffee tables with artists like the Life of Frank Sinatra, the book and images from It's a Wonderful Life, a Book on Disease and a Book on World Religions..,as eclectic as this seems, it intrigues them. ~

Our living room has one of those HUGE, (I mean really huge like you could sit in it, huge) baskets with a handle. Here, we have our Time magazines, Family Circle, National Geograhic, Muse, Newsweek, Art Study, and too many others to mention. Daily newspapers are common On our tables along with book catalogues and book club magazines to glance through.

Books fill our books shelves which keep getting over loaded...and are there for our reading enjoyment and our learners at home.

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