What we’re Doing for Grade 2 and 3 Maths

arithmemouse_grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculum

Multiplication Practice with Arithmemouse

I last wrote about how we found our perfect math curriculum back in March, so I thought it might be time for an update…

Jasper (7, Yr3/Gr2)

Life of Fred

Life of Fred Farming - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumMaths is still Jasper’s favourite subject, thanks to Life of Fred.  This term we finished Life of Fred (Edgewood) and began Life of Fred (Farming).  I love the way the Fred series mixes up basic fundamentals (such as subtraction with borrowing) with more sophisticated concepts (like union of sets, median averages and simple algebraic equations) in a way that introduces young children to advanced mathematical vocabulary in a very natural way. And, of course, we all love “Fred’s” delightfully quirky story and offbeat humour.

Games

Because we’re not doing a traditional curriculum, I make sure Jasper gets plenty of extra opportunities to learn his maths facts. Luckily he loves games, which are a great way of getting the job done.  Recently we’ve played Yahtzee  and War . (My favourite maths website, Let’s Play Math has lots of ideas for maths games. I’ve just noticed Contig, which looks great – we’ll be playing Contig Jr next week!)  We also play games like Tug Team Addition  at Math Playground, and Jasper practises multiplication using Arithmemouse and Timez Attack.

One benefit of working with a child one-to-one is that you get instant feedback on how easy or challenging he finds each concept.  So in Life of Fred (Edgewood) I noticed Jasper was a bit confused about the differences between rhombuses, trapeziums and parallelograms, so I set him some exercises on Study Ladder.  He loves working online, especially on specific exercises (rather than working his way through an online curriculum in a linear way – for example, Maths Whizz didn’t work so well for us for any length of time) so this is win/win.

Cordie (8, Yr4/Gr3)

math mammoth division 1 - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumCordie recently decided to take a break from Life of Fred (she was on “Farming”) to explore some other resources.  She did a few exercises from a Schofield & Sims KS2 workbook we had on the shelves and asked me to set her some “surprise” Study Ladder exercises.  One day she asked me to make her a page of clocks so she could brush up on telling the time, and another day she wanted a page of multi-digit subtraction sums.  She played around on Khan Academy for a while, watching videos on decimal place values and then setting herself some problems to solve. And she dipped into Math Mammoth’s Division 1 (filling in the answers on the iPad using the Notability app).

Following her explorations, Cordie says she’s ready to go back to more of a maths routine with Life of Fred.  Before that, though, we’re doing some times tables practice using Maria Miller’s structured drill system from Math Mammoth Multiplication 1.

I’ve looked ahead at all the Life of Fred elementary level books (up to “Jellybeans”) and they seem to cover everything on the English KS2 curriculum. As with Jasper, if Cordie needs or wants extra practice on a particular topic as we go along, there are plenty of other resources we can dip into.

Writing this post has also reminded me how much we all like Primary Grade Challenge Math which teaches mathematical thinking and problem-solving in a fun way.  We haven’t used Challenge Math in a while but I’d like to get back to using it regularly, perhaps once a week.

Isn’t it great how many fabulous homeschool maths resources are out there? There really is something to suit everyone, at every age and in every mood!

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How a Homeschool Schedule Works for Us (Sometimes)

how a homeschool schedule works for us (sometimes) at navigating by joy homeschool blog

We started puppy training classes this week with Harvey, our four month old cavalier spaniel/bischon frise cross. The classes are on a Wednesday morning and take out (for the next few weeks) one of the six half-days we actually spend at home.  Of course all of us, not just Harvey, are learning at the classes, but it is putting a bit of a squeeze on our week!

The solution, it occurred to me, was a schedule! (Colour-coded, naturally.) Don’t you just love the beautiful dance between structure and free-wheeling that is homeschooling?!  At the start of September (all those many – er, weeks – ago) I happily shared with a good homeschooling friend that we were taking a fairly autonomous approach this term.  She said that her family were doing the opposite, and had begun the new school year with a very structured timetable.  At the time we laughed, and said we’d each probably be doing the opposite before too long.  And so here I am, colour-coded schedule proudly in hand. 😀

I wrote a few weeks ago about how we’ve been using the big rocks time management system to prioritise project-based learning around the good maths and English habits we already have in place, and that’s still working well as a guiding principle. But recently my left-brain had begun to get a bit antsy about how weeks were slipping by without Cordie doing any copywork or dictation, and then she decided to try a new approach to learning maths, which was great but required a bit more planning …  and my free-wheeling right-brain decided it was time to take a back seat for a while.

And guess what? Just like when I move around the furniture to the exact same position it was in 6 months earlier and declare joyfully that it looks “So Much Better!” – we’re getting so much done!

On Thursdays we only have until 1130am at home, but by the time we left the house this morning we had done a stack of English and  maths, Cordie had had her project time, the children had enjoyed plenty of time playing in the garden, and we’d even done some history notebooking and had the paints out making Anglo-Saxon coins!

anglo_saxon_coins_

Here’s how a schedule works best for us:

In short bursts. Once it’s helped us find our groove, I’ll happily let the schedule itself  fall by the wayside.  It’s served its purpose.  “Tools, not rules” as my friend Sarah and I say. I can always create a new schedule when the need arises again. (And that colour-coding is so much fun :-D)

A schedule saves time spent arguing about “who goes first” with mummy in the morning. Even though both Cordie and Jasper enjoy their one on one time with me, tearing themselves away from their book/lego/trampoline and  getting around to actually starting is a different matter.

I see a schedule as a set of goals rather than a strict timetable. Although there are times written on our schedule, I rarely look at the clock. The timetable just serves as a rough guide to who does what next.  There’s plenty of leeway for following rabbit-trails and spending a whole afternoon doing  projects or partnership writing a long story if the mood takes us (right brain satisfied), but the timetable helps me remember what else I’d like us to cover in a week (happy left brain).  Win win. 🙂

Where are you at right now in the scheduling/free-wheeling dance?

Big Rocks Homeschooling – How to Prioritize What’s Important

project based homeschooling at navigating by joy

One of the many things I love about project-based learning is that it can fit into any homeschool style. This term I have a much more relaxed approach to curriculum – I’m using it as the tool I always intended it to be, instead of being a slave to it – leaving a bigger space for more natural, child-led learning.

The Call of the Familiar (it’s Easiest to Do What You’ve Always Done)

But starting something new – no, sticking with something new – takes commitment. Now that our intense start-of-term enthusiasm has subsided, cold viruses are doing the rounds, and wet weather has kept us indoors for days at a time, there have been mornings when it’s felt so tempting just to snuggle up with the children for quiet English, maths and read alouds. It’s not that I don’t love seeing the children caught up in a wave of passionate creativity; it’s just that the lure of the familiar, the comfortable path of doing what we know, is sometimes hard to resist.

“Big Rocks” Time Management

you can have what you want at navigating by joy homeschooling blogIn his book You Can Have What You Want, supercoach Michael Neill  tells this story about a seminar leader who placed a large jar on the table.

By the side of the jar he placed a bucket of gravel, a bucket of sand, a bucket of water, and three big rocks. He then challenged his participants to  find a way to fit everything on the table into the jar.

After numerous attempts, it became clear that the only way to fit everything in was to start with the big rocks first.  The gravel filled the space between the big rocks, the sand filled the gaps in the gravel,  and the water filled the gaps between the sand.

When it comes to what we choose to make important, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the daily gravel, ground down by the sand, and swept away by the water. What can be tricky is finding ways to prioritize the ‘big rocks’ – those things in your life that matter most. 

Over the summer (using a fantastic process I’ll share in another post) I identified what are the biggest “rocks” that I want to fit into my life. One “rock” was doing more natural (interest and child-led) learning with my children, and project-based homeschooling has been the perfect way to do this. Of course maths and English are important, but (I’m happy to say) doing them has become a comfortable habit – they get done easily without needing to be prioritized.

How to Prioritize Something

Michael Neill suggests that there are three ways of prioritizing something: (1) Do it first (2) Do it now (3) Do it often. Common sense, but a good reminder nonetheless.

And that is how, as well as practising multi-digit subtraction and discussing the beautiful metaphors in Where the Moon Meets the Mountain, last week Cordie experimented with home made light bulbs, and made kites and tepees from wood and hot glue, and Jasper began to learn computer programming with Scratch in between practising his spelling, handwriting, and learning about the differences between rhombuses and trapeziums. 🙂

What are your big rocks?

Project-Based Learning: Electricity and Magnetism

electricity project at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

Project-based homeschooling in our newly reorganised space has got off to a great start, with all three of us learning a lot! Today I’ll talk about what Cordie (8) has been doing in her project time.

Cordie’s Electricity and Magnetism Project

Cordie immediately knew she wanted to do her first project on electricity and magnetism. Over the summer she read a few books I’d strewed around (in response to her expressed interest) – including  The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, Thomas A Edison – Young inventor, and How Benjamin Franklin Stole the Lightening.  By September she was ready to get hands-on!

electricity_books_original at navigating by joy homeschool blog

Klutz Electricity and Magnetism Kit

Klutz Battery Science at navigating by joy homeschooling blogWhen we set up her new project desk the first thing Cordie did was decorate it with a picture of Ben Franklin. 🙂  Next she got out our Klutz Electricity and Magnetism kit (which she had last played with a year ago) and experimented with connecting the wires to make the light bulb glow and the buzzer sound.

klutz electricity and magnetism kit navigating by joy homeschool

Then she ran up to her bedroom and used the bulb and wires to illuminate her upstairs landing of her dolls’ house.

dolls house illuminations at navigating by joy homeschool blog

Spot the crimescene

She loved the effect of this, and talked about how she’d like to light up the whole house, but thought it would be inconvenient to have the lights on all the time.  I was very proud of myself for not leaping in with suggestions about switches! Instead I smiled, nodded interestedly, and made notes in my project journal. I’ve included a photo of the lit up house in the photo collage I put up on her pin board, to act as a visual reminder.

Snap Circuits

Primary-Plus2-box-200w at navigating by joy homeschool blogNext Cordie wanted to browse Amazon for electricity kits.  She found this one (which I was happy to invest in on the basis it goes right through to KS3 (the end of middle school)).

Electricty Kit at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

This was the perfect next step – having played with the Klutz kit she understood that circuit components contain metal wires that have to be connected, but the relative ease of being able to snap the the Primary Electricity kit parts together meant she could make more complex circuits without the fiddliness of ensuring the wires were properly connected.   Knowing that there are no loose connections prompts a young scientist to look for other explanations as to why a circuit isn’t working!

Cordie’s spent most of her project sessions since then methodically assembling the components of the kit, following instructions in the accompanying manual.  I’ve sat quietly beside her as she worked, lending a hand on request to snap together tricky parts or to read aloud from the manual while she does the assembling.

Collaboration

I learned from Project-Based Homeschooling that collaboration is an important part of project work, and this has happened naturally so far. It first happened at home as Jasper (7) watched Cordie put together circuits and asked if he could play with the kit too.  They spent hours over the following days putting together and discussing circuits.  (During those few days I had to bulk buy 2 Amp fuses, much to the consternation of the nice elderly gentleman in the local electrical shop, who looked at me with concern and asked  nervously, “Is it the same appliance that keeps on breaking?”)

electricity project at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

Mad Scientist in the background

Cordie also discovered that a friend at our home ed group is interested in circuits too, in particular robotics circuits, and they’ve agreed to take their kits along next time, to explore together.

How Project-Based Learning Feels

Obviously a lot of learning is happening during these project sessions, which lifts the heart of any homeschooling mum, but there’s so much more to it.  I’m absolutely loving observing Cordie’s natural learning process in a way that wasn’t possible when I thought my role was to actively direct the process.  A few times she’s said she’s worried I’m bored (sitting quietly, doing as she asks) and each time I’ve given her a genuine reassurance that I’m really enjoying just being there beside her.  I sense that she’s beginning to relax a little now and trust that this is the real deal, that I’m not about to pounce and take over her project, or wander off bored and do my own thing. And that trust and sense of ease is carrying over into the rest of our homeschooling life.

Jasper has been using his project-time quite differently, but with equally pleasing results. I’ll talk more about that next time.

How to Organize Homeschool Supplies to Encourage Project-Based Learning

How to organize homeschool resources at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

My last post was about how Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners inspired me to make changes in the way we homeschool and showed me how to make those changes.  One thing I learned was the importance of creating a physical environment that encourages project-based learning.  For example, how learning materials are organised.

Who Controls the Best Resources?

I’m not naturally the tidiest, most organised person (anyone who’s visited our home will agree!), but I used to pride myself on the fact that our “school supplies” were neatly stored in categorized tubs behind closed cupboard doors – ready to be brought out, “Hey Presto!” style, by me (wearing my magician’s hat), when I had a wonderful about how to use them. (Or, more often, to languish in the cupboard, never to see the light of day, while I browsed Pinterest and the blogosphere for more  wonderful ideas.  Ahem.)

I guess giving the kids access to the best tools only while they were working on what I wanted them to do was a form of bribery.  They had plenty of coloured pencils to make pictures of their own ideas, but the Prismacolors were special – they were reserved for when the children were executing my ideas, for when they were pleasing me.

Wow, have my eyes been opened to these subtle but insidious ways we exert control over our children’s learning process!  What message was I giving them about the value of their own ideas in comparison with mine?  (Don’t think I’m being too hard on myself, by the way – I’m laughing as I write this – partially in relief at having had this epiphany sooner rather than later!)

Direct Access to Materials

In Project-Based Homeschooling, Lori talks about the importance of children having sight of and easy access to all the materials they might be inspired to create with.  Cordie (8) and I had great fun one weekend liberating our resources from their cupboard “prisons”. Prismacolor pencils, Caran D’Ache watercolour crayons, fancy papers, Crayola Model Magic, paintbrushes, canvases, film canisters, a collection of corks and balsa wood, charcoals, dozens of different kinds of paper, glues and tapes… all my “secret supplies”… were  merrily piled up in the middle of the room (“go free, bronze acrylic paint! Go free, watercolours!”) before being re-homed  in transparent (Ikea) storage containers in full view and easy reach around the room. (OH it felt good! :-D)

how to organize resources for project based homeschooling at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

Clean Up Time

Another suggestion Lori makes is that, as well as being able to get materials out, children should know how to put them away and clean up after themselves afterwards. As well as honouring and supporting children’s independence, this also makes it more likely – in the long run – that I’ll let them go ahead with messy projects. Yes, it means taking the time to show them how to wash out the paint palettes and brushes, and maybe putting up with less than perfect cleaning up for a while, but it’s just too tempting to put off teaching these important skills in favour of the easier (in the short term) “Oh I’ll just do it myself!”  (This is one I’m going to have to practise!)

I’m loving watching the children exploring our newly re-organised project space. 🙂

Project-Based Homeschooling

project based homeschooling at navigatingbyjoy homeschooling blog

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert is a rare book that both inspired me to make changes in the way I homeschool and gave me the practical means to make them.

I’ve long enjoyed Lori’s  Camp Creek Blog (now Project-Based Homeschooing) and loved the idea of seeing my children happily immersed in projects of their own design, but I never took any action on it beyond occasionally prodding them with a “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a project? What would you like to do a project on?”  Strangely, my 7 and 8 year olds never ran with that approach.

Lori’s book has made it all much clearer and helped me see where I’ve been going wrong in the past.

How I Explained Project-Based Homeschooling to my 8 Year Old

I made these notes to help me explain Project-Based Homeschooling to my daughter Cordie (8 years old):

Who does what in a project? You lead the way and have all the ideas, I do what you ask to support you. This could mean buying materials, helping you find a book, helping you find something online, talking through ideas together, reading something aloud, helping you find software, planning a field trip etc. Or me just sitting next to you making notes as you talk to help you remember your ideas.
How long is a project? It can be as short or as long as you want it to be. From one day to a year! You get to decide when it’s done. Between projects you’ll be able to use our project time to explore our  materials or do whatever you want.
How do you choose a project topic? It can be on anything at all you’re interested in, and whatever particular aspect of that you want. For example, if you did electricity and magnetism, you might start finding out about it generally, then find one aspect or one person you want to find out more about, and you might go down that path for a while – whatever you want.
There are three main parts of a project: finding out about the subject, finding a way to share it with other people, and actually sharing it. Sharing it might mean by means of a picture (in paint, pencil, charcoal, watercolour pencil – whatever you like), a three-dimensional piece of art (in clay, wire, junk, pipe cleaners, wood, sand etc) or using photographs, video or computer software, or you might make a little book about it, or write a play and perform it with costumes or puppets… or any combination of different ways.  When you’re ready, we can share it with our family, invite friends over, take it to our homeschool group etc.
Working with other people: As well as sharing what you create with other people eg by inviting them over to see an exhibition of your project work, we can invite people to join us at other stages – for example, if we are doing a particular piece of art, or going on a field trip. Sharing and discussing ideas with friends and family often leads to new ideas!
When do we do project work? We will set special times in the week when I will be 100% available to you to support you doing project work – if you want to do it.  If you choose to spend project time reading, playing or anything else while you think about your project, that’s ok too.
What if you don’t know what topic to start with? You can take as much thinking time as you need. One way of using project time until you come up with a project idea is to explore our materials eg experiment with charcoal, paint or modelling materials.

3 Reasons I Love Project-Based Homeschooling

There are many reasons why I absolutely love the idea of project-based homeschooling.  Here are just three.

Children Own their Projects

I love that each child “owns” his project – he decides the subject, how to do it, how to share it, and when it’s complete. The adult’s role is to mentor and support in whatever way the child requests. This is going to be a learning experience for me – my natural way is to either take over, or leave them to it – but the practical point I learned from the book is to schedule blocks of time when I am able to give 100% of my attention to each child to support, facilitate and mentor them in their project.

Project Work is Authentic

When I was at school I used to cringe at assignments that asked me to “write a pretend newspaper article about …” or “design a poster pretending you are…”.  What the child writes or creates in this kind of project-work is different.  As Lori says in the book:

“In authentic project work, the representations aren’t pretend. They’re real.  …  Your child makes something genuine according to his own ideas and plans.  He  builds something because he wants or needs it.  He does real work for a real purpose.”

I’m all for pretend play and encouraging kids to use their imaginations.  But for kids to do their best work, to learn and to love the process, the ideas have to come from inside them, they can’t be contrived.

Children Learn Real-World Skills

As well as learning about the subject of their project, children doing project-based learning are acquiring life skills that will serve them in the real world.  They are learning where and how to find what they want to know, using real, twenty-first century resources.  They’re learning how to put together what they have learned in meaningful ways, and they’re learning how to present their ideas in ways that make a contribution to others.

You’re Learning Too

Beginning something new takes courage and commitment.   I love that Lori reminds us (homeschooling parents) to treat ourselves in the same loving way as we do our children.  She jokes of the attitude of school adminstrators she has met,

“Your kids should learn at their own pace, follow their interests, and you should trust that they’ll eventually learn everything they need to know.  You, on the other hand, should get with the program, right now, 100%, or else.” [my italics – that really made me laugh! I think I have a mini-school adminstrator on my shoulder.]

Instead, Lori reminds us,

“If your child deserves to learn at his own pace and have his own ideas, so do you.  Whatever you champion for your child, make sure you also give to yourself: the right to follow your own path, work at your own pace, follow your own interests, make mistakes, and try again.  Whatever you want for your children, you are far more likely to help them achieve it if you live it yourself.”

Ahhh, sigh of relief.  I don’t have to get it all 100% right immediately. I can risk beginning this!

How to Make a Model Celtic Roundhouse

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers

This full-size model was not made by us 🙂

As our year studying Ancient History draws to a close, we’ve returned – for the first time since we looked at Stonehenge – to the ancient peoples who lived in our part of the world:  the Celts.

I like to use living books as much as possible, but I didn’t find many on the Celts suitable for younger children, so I decided to go hands-on instead.

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolersAt our library we found Step Into The Celtic World.  I asked C which of the projects appealed to her and she chose the model Celtic Roundhouse. This tied in perfectly with my plan to visit a local Celtic Ancient Farm!

We only loosely followed the book instructions, partly because I’m not very good at following  instructions (or even reading them – ahem), and partly because the dowel rods I ordered online took several weeks to arrive.  (Big J later told me I could have picked some up at the local DIY store;  I have much to learn about hands-on project supplies.)

What You Need

  • A long strip of card (for the walls of the house)
  • Straw (the type that’s like hay, not the drinking-type)
  • Plasticine (for the walls).  I found this “animators’ plasticine alternative” very cheaply on Amazon.
  • A large, thick piece of card for the roof
  • Glue

How to Construct the Roundhouse

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers

1. Cover the long strip of cardboard (wall) with a thin layer of plasticine.

2. Press scraps of straw into the walls. (I forgot to get a photo of this.)

3. Stand the wall up in a circle shape, leaving a gap for the doorway. You might want to use tape or glue to attach it to a base to help it stand up. (My photo was taken before pressing the straw into the walls.)

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers

4. Cut out a cardboard circle for the roof.  Make it into a cone shape that overhangs the walls.

5. Now for the messy bit!  Cover the roof with straw, using glue to stick it on. The picture in our book showed long neat strands of straw coming together in an orderly thatch. The only straw I could find was scrappy bits used for small animal bedding. But as I reminded C and J, the Celts used whatever materials were available locally to build their houses. 😉

Verdict

Our Celtic Roundhouse may not be the prettiest ever, but we were pretty pleased with it! We had so much fun working on it together, and it definitely enhanced our subsequent experience of visiting an Ancient Celtic Farm.

I’ve been wanting for a while to do more hands-on projects as part of our homeschool.  They’re memorable and fun, and this is the age to do them (my kids are 7 and 8). My lack of practicality – combined with perfectionist tendencies – has held me back in the past, so I was very pleased that we got round to doing this project (and simplifying it to work for us).

Further Resources

If you want to make a more sophisticated model Celtic roundhouse, try this one.

A Day In The Life of a British Homeschooling Family

a day in the life of a british homeschooling family - navigating by joy

Like many homeschoolers, there is no “typical” day in our household.  Our week is loosely structured around external activities like sports classes and our weekly homeschool group, and there are certain subjects that I aim to cover in a week, but other than that,  I like the flexibility of a routine rather than a fixed schedule.

Having said that, here’s an example of a typical, non-typical day!

530am I get up.  I’m not normally this early!  But it’s such a beautiful morning already  I decide I’ll enjoy some quiet time to myself.

645am I go back to bed and meditate/play Words with Friends until 730. I love how my iPhone lets me have a permanent scrabble game going with my mum who lives in Wales!

830am We’re having poetry tea with friends later, so I bake some gluten free/sugar free cookies with the children.  J has been so much calmer since we reduced his dietary sugar, gluten and dairy five months ago (on the advice of a complementary health professional) .  Since most bought products are either sugar or gluten free, I find myself baking a lot.  I’m not an experienced cook, so the recipe substitutions I make can be a bit random, as can the end products. Luckily the children are very forgiving.

850am As we put the eggs away, J asks if we can make pancakes.  I promise him that if he gets on with his maths and English without any fuss, there’ll be time to make some before we set out for our friends’ house.

855am Incentivized by pancakes, J physically drags me into my office, where C and J do most of their individual schoolwork. He does copywork from “Fox In Socks” and we practice phonics and spelling using The Wand.  For today’s maths we look at negative numbers in Primary Grade Challenge Math.

915am  J makes pancake batter. He and C got very good at making pancakes shortly after we changed his diet – gluten and sugar free English pancakes, made with goats’ milk, work really well!

10am We arrive at our friends’ house.  C and J run off to play with the other children (aged 12, 10 and 9)  while I catch up with my friend.  Later we sit at a beautiful table and eat cookies, drink tea from fine cups and saucers, and take turns reading poems aloud. These are the friends who introduced us to the Brave Writer lifestyle, and I love sharing Poetry Tea with them; it’s such a pleasure hearing the poem each person has chosen.

I read “A Summer Morning” by Rachel Field, because even though it’s only May, temperatures have been in the 80’s today.  After the weather we’ve had in England recently, it definitely feels like summer!

1130am On the way home we stop off at the park to enjoy the sunshine.

12pm We make another stop, this time at the garden centre, to pick up some compost: it’s finally safe to put the tomato and pepper plants outside!

1230pm Lunch.  J learned how to make cheese and ham tortilla flatbreads at our homeschool centre yesterday; he decides to make them again today. It requires a brick, apparently.  C obligingly finds one in her den at the end of the garden.  J teaches C how to make his new dish.  I do the bit at the hob, involving flattening the tortilla between the griddle pan, a saucepan and a tea towel-wrapped house brick!

homeschool gardening - navigating by joy

1pm C waters her vegetable patch while I plant out the tomatoes. J bounces on the trampoline then retreats from the heat inside.

phantom tollbooth - navigating by joy homeschoolers145pm C and I go to my office for her English and maths. We continue our discussion of literal versus metaphorical meaning using The Arrow and our novel, The Phantom Tollbooth. We discuss what clichés are and pick out a few from a list I had printed out; then we start an exercise from The Arrow, creating a story taking metaphoric meanings literally. It’s about a king standing on the tip of an iceberg.  C enjoys this so much that when I suggest finishing, she begs to do a bit more! Always a good sign 🙂  We finish by reading aloud a chapter of The Phantom Tollbooth.

We use Primary Grade Math Challenge for maths and C answers the level 2 questions on negative numbers.

245 pm Science: we continue our space travel project. The children make edible space shuttles following directions in this NASA Educators’ Guide.

We watch a You Tube video of the shuttle taking off and look at a printables of the parts of the space shuttle and the sequence of take-off, orbit, and landing.  C and J then assemble their own shuttles using bread, carrot, celery and hummus.  I video them “narrating” their own take-off to landing sequences on my iPhone.  C leads the narration but J contributes a piece of information he remembered from our recent visit to the Kennedy Space Centre – something I hadn’t even realised he’d taken in at the time – I love it when that happens!

edible space shuttle - navigating by joy homeschoolers

J follows his space shuttle snack with a plum from the fruit bowl, and then asks me to point out to him the plum tree in our garden. We look at the hard, grape-sized plums on the tree and I tell J how I ate the sweetest, juiciest plum from it on the day we moved into our house on 31 July 2007.  He said he is going to keep an eye on the plums’ progress. Sometimes I wish I made more time for formal nature study in our homeschool; then I realise that thanks to the huge amount of free time they have to spend outdoors, C and J are actually quite in tune with nature and the seasons.

boudicca - navigating by joy homeschoolers4pm History: I decide to squeeze in a bit of The Story of the World before swimming classes. J groans (he never likes the idea of history) but he soon joins C pleading for more when I stop after half a chapter on the Celts.  Half a chapter is all the Celts get in The Story of the World, but as they are our bit of ancient history, we’re spending a bit longer on them than our curriculum suggests. I read from our living book on Boudicca while C spontaneiously makes a Boudicca “doll” from a feather the cats brought it.

5pm C and J go to their swimming classes while I squeeze in half an hour in the gym. When the children were at school, exercising often felt like a chore.  Now I cherish my gym time!  We eat dinner at the sports centre cafe, and C and J have some time jumping around in the soft play area.

7pm We go straight from the sports centre to take C to Cub Scouts (where she is one of only two girls). Normally this signals the end of my day’s “work”, but Big J’s commuter train is delayed tonight so J and I go back out to collect C from cubs at 830.

930pm I’m relaxing with an alcohol free beer and watching The Vampire Diaries.

A good day!

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

The Arrow: Grade 2 Language Arts at Navigating by JoyC and I had so much fun – and learned so much (yes, me too) – this week doing an exercise from Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

What is The Arrow?

The Arrow uses one classic novel each month to teach language arts to children aged from 8 to 11.  It places strong emphasis on literary elements – elements which “make writing pop”. C has a great imagination and her writing is naturally crafted from vibrant language.  I think The Arrow will help refine her grammar, punctuation and spelling skills while nurturing her unique writer’s “voice” and giving her the means to use, in her own writing, literary tools she enjoys in her reading. As she becomes more consciously aware of these literary elements, I think she will also begin to appreciate literature more deeply. We’re are using The Arrow in combination with other aspects of the Brave Writer lifestyle, such as Poetry Tea.

Novel of the Month: The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth: Grade 2 language artsOur first novel (from August 2011’s The Arrow) is The Phantom Tollbooth, which grabs the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph with the magical words “There was once a boy named…” and then hooks us in with a series of contrasts using the literary element of surprise.  The Arrow points out how punctuation – in particular, the em dash – is used in the passage to create literary power, for example in the very first sentence:

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.”

Opening Hooks Exercise

To look at more opening hooks in action we gathered a pile of novels – old favourites and some from my read-aloud wish list – and took turns reading the opening lines aloud. We talked about how each opening introduced us to the flavour of the novel – humorous, magical, etc – and described characters, places or situations we wanted to find out more about. We piled the books in order of how effective their opening hooks were, with the most powerful at the top. (C had the casting vote!)

C”s favourite hook was from her old favourite, “You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!”:

“Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave.  He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob.  What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things.”

This reminded C how much she loves Mr Gum, and she spent the rest of the day re-reading Mr Gum books!

I liked the start of “The Return of the Twelves”:

“Max sat on the bare stairs below the attic, wondering whether to tell anyone.”

We haven’t yet read The Return of the Twelves but I’m sure we soon will – we want to find out what had happened to Max!

Interestingly, we decided that the opening of “Heidi”, which we we have just finished, and enjoyed immensely, had the least effective opening hook (at least in the opening paragraph) out of our selection  – which was a nice reminder of how authors use a variety of ways to appeal to readers.

More Brave Writer: Language Arts for Grade 1

Next time I’ll post about J and I’s first experiences using Brave Writer’s The Wand.

The Perfect Math Curriculum – the End of Our Search

the perfect Homeschool math currriculum - end of the search

We’ve had a maths breakthrough! How do I know?

  • The children have been asking to do maths first.
  • C (8) sceptically asked me in the middle of a recent  lesson we were both enjoying, “is this really maths, mummy?”
  • My confidence in my children’s ability to reach their maths potential (and my ability to get them there) has skyrocketed!

Where we were before

When they were at school, both C (8) and J (nearly 7) enjoyed maths and were top of their respective classes. This was a good starting point, but as a new homeschooler it only increased the pressure I put on myself to nurture their talents at home! I never doubted their mathematical ability; what I did question was my ability to sustain and develop their passion for the subject.

I think my biggest enemy was that spectre that looms over most homeschoolers in our weak moments: fear of leaving gaps in our children’s education. This fear seems to strike frequently when it comes to maths, so perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us devote huge amounts of energy to finding the “perfect” maths curriculum.

But here’s what I’ve found: for my children, most maths curricula probably work just fine for a while.  And then … well, they just get bored of doing the same thing day in day out (or at least the same sort of thing in the same sort of way).  And boredom is definitely not a good learning state!

The book that was the key

Favourite Homeschool Math ResourceThen, thanks to the lovely folks over at the Secular Homeschool  forum, I discovered Primary Grade Math Challenge.  This is a book of word problems aimed at gifted maths students (grades 1st – 4th).  Each chapter introduces a theme (such as completing a number series, or counting change) and then has four sets of questions ranging from “level 1” to “genius”.

It may not sound very exciting so far, but sitting with each of my children in turn as they work through the questions has given me is an incredible insight into how their minds work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, in ways no math curriculum has ever done. Meanwhile my puzzle-loving children love figuring out the answers and seeing how many levels they can complete in each unit.

Another bonus is as they work through the questions, C and J become increasingly motivated to learn more sophisticated problem-solving strategies.  Instead of “Why do we have to learn this [abstract concept]?”, it’s “Please teach me a way of doing this!” *

*Ok, I exaggerate a teensy bit – we may not be quite there yet – but I can see the day coming. 😀

An example

Last Thursday I had to quell my inner frustration when we opened a chapter of Primary Grade Math Challenge dealing with fractions, and C groaned “I hate fractions!”  Where in the world had my mathematically gifted daughter picked up this absurd notion? Fifteen minutes later, Primary Grade Math Challenge had worked its magic on us both. C was happily adding together sixteenths, quarters and eighths, and converting improper fractions to mixed numbers.  Meanwhile I had figured out that she hadn’t “hated” fractions because they were difficult, but because she was bored of colouring in segments of polygons and pie in her previous (grade level) maths curricula! (It makes me wonder what other misunderstandings lurk at the foundation of our homeschool!)

What next?

Up until now I’ve continued to pick out a few sections of Math Mammoth (grade 2) for C to do once or twice a week, but writing this post has helped me let go of that, unless there’s something specific she needs to work on.  She doesn’t need to practise place value or rounding to the nearest hundred, and I don’t want to bore her into “hating” any other mathematical concept.  Yes, C and J need to master their number facts, know their multiplication tables and learn about different types of triangles, but they can acquire all those skills in day-to-day life (eg by baking and budgeting), by playing games, and from living maths books.  One of the things I like about Math Mammoth is that you can buy material on a specific topic if you don’t need the complete curriculum.  I’ve got my eye on the multiplication and division worksheets collection  to help C and J master those operations when they reach that point (which given the way Primary Grade Math Challenge is going, probably isn’t far off).

Life Of Fred

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our beloved Life Of Fred. These books are not cheap but – oh – they are good! Once I had found a UK supplier (thank you Conquest Books) I splashed out on the first four elementary level books, which C whizzed through, and I’ve since bought the complete set. (I figure they’re good quality non-consumables so should I should be able to get some of my investment back by re-selling at some point – if we can ever bear to part with them!)  My reluctant reader J, meanwhile, is happy to alternate reading aloud paragraphs with me for chapter after chapter – I don’t think he notices he’s even reading, let alone learning maths! Seriously, I can’t recommend these books enough if you want to your kids to associate maths with laughter and generally feeling good.

Conclusion

I’m so happy to have found what works for us (for now!). I know this exact approach won’t work for every family or every child, but if you’re on the verge of jumping off-curriculum with your mathematically-able child – come on in, the water’s just fine!

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