Dude, where’s my science?

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Dude, where’s my car?” then you have seen the part where they go through the drive through for Chinese food and the lady keeps asking them…”and then?”.  This is what it is like to teach science to Little Yoda. We finish the science lesson for the day and he turns to me and says, “more”.  I just can’t do enough to appease this science loving little dude.

I started off this year with a science program that I thought would take us through the year and would be more than enough for a first grader to learn.  But as Robert Burns said, “the best laid plans of mice and mean often go astray.”   My intention was that we would do science for two or maybe three days a week.  I should have conferred with the student before I made this decision!  He believes that we should have his beloved science every day and any day without it is a tragedy.

So now I have combined two programs:  Noeo level one biology and Real Science Odyssey Life level one.  I am also supplementing with videos (like Magic School bus) and books.  We are having a lot of fun learning about the human body and he finally seems to be getting enough.

But how much science does a first grader really need to learn?  Part of the problem in the US is that our students spend their time memorizing science facts instead of developing a real understanding of the topics.  Studies that have been done to figure out why we are lagging so far behind have shown that American students memorize the facts while students in other nations learn the foundational concepts that make complicated processes understandable later on. So I do not require him to do worksheets or memorize concepts.  I have found that he absorbs the most knowledge when we do the readings, demonstrations, etc. and then discuss it together.  I have often found that days later he will come to me and want to talk about something we read or saw more in-depth.  He is actually processing the information as opposed to just remembering something long enough to spit it back out on a test.

It is extremely important to foster our children’s interest and love of science and math.  If we make it dry and boring they will not want to continue learning these most important subjects.  It is sad that so few of our students choose the STEM fields.  By the time U.S. students get to college, interest in science is scant. In 2006, only 29.3 percent of first-year male college students intended to study a STEM field and just 15.1 percent of first-year females did. And even fewer actually complete these fields of study: out of over 1.5 million bachelor degrees awarded in 2007, only 16 percent were in STEM subjects.

So even though I might grumble a bit (or sometimes a lot) about the extra time it takes to do science every day and to pull together the supplies I need, I know that the best thing I can do for my child is to continue to encourage his love of all things science.

And then?????

First grade babies?

First grade – babies
Second grade – tots
Third grade – angels
Fourth grade – snots
Fifth grade – peaches
Sixth grade – plums
And all the rest are
Dirty Bums!

That is how the chant went when I was a kid.  When I was in first grade I really hated that we were the “babies”.  I so badly wanted to be a big kid.  (At least third grade because I thought being an angel would be cool).

But Little Yoda doesn’t seem to mind at all being the baby. He absolutely refuses to give up his “niño” (that is what he calls his blanket), and couldn’t care less when his brothers call him a baby for sucking his thumb!

I am torn between loving that I still have a little one who will cuddle with me and loves to be hugged and kissed, and worrying about whether or not he is doing permanent damage to his teeth or if we should be encouraging him to be a little more grown up.

He doesn’t do it all the time, but at night when he is tired he wants his soft niño and the thumb goes right in the mouth.  The funny thing is, he also sucks his thumb when he pets the cat!  When I ask him why he tells me that he can’t help it because the kitty is just so soft.

What does this have to do with homeschool you ask?  Well, sometimes I wonder if he was in public school if the other kids would shame him into stopping this habit.  Then I realize how glad I am that he isn’t getting picked on at school and if he feels like he needs that comfort or security that he can still find it at home.  We don’t need to be in such a hurry for our kids to grow up.  When he is ready he will throw away the blanket and the thumb will stay out of his mouth.

If you read this when you are older Little Yoda, don’t be mad at your mother for outing you as a thumb sucker.  After all, if Diddy can admit that he was a bed-wetter as kid, than you shouldn’t be embarrassed about the thumb sucking!


Count de Money!

Little Yoda is learning how to count coins this week, and I can’t stop myself from walking around saying, “count de money!”.

If you have ever seen Mel Brook’s History of the World Part 1 you will know exactly what I am referring to.  If you are not sure, or have never seen the movie, than you can check this out.  It’s not my favorite clip since it jumps around a little, but you get the idea.


Obviously I can’t show this movie to my young boys.  But I can try to come up with some fun ways to help him learn the basics of identifying and counting with coins.

Here are two free games from abcya.com.  They have ads but they are easy to ignore.  What I really like about these is that you can customize them to your child’s level.

abcya learning coins

abcya money bingo


Here is a website with all kinds of math games and a worksheet generator.  There are several money games from easy to advanced.  There is even a game to teach how to make change.  (a dying art!)


And here are a couple of apps:

Counting coins by K12 is for the ipad/iphone.

iPhone Screenshot 1


Learn to Count Money is for android devices.

Learn To Count Money

While there is nothing wrong with worksheets and play money, kids love games and they are a great way to reinforce concepts.

Time to count de money!

Sick days while homeschooling…..

So what do you do when your child gets sick?  If they go to public school they just miss a day.  Homeschooling is a bit more flexible.

Little Yoda has come down with some sort of crud.  I’m not really sure what it is, but he is running a fever and is a little congested.  Trying to keep him quiet is not always easy, so we are doing activities in bed.  When the medicine is working and his fever is down we do a little school.  We read some science and some history.  Later we did some math games on the kindle and reviewed sight words.

While he is feeling really yucky I just let him play on the kindle, or rest, or watch a movie.  We are still learning about the human body and I got a great documentary from netflix.

Incredible Human Machine

Hopefully tomorrow he will feel better.  In the meantime he is still learning a little and I don’t feel like it is a lost day.

I Vant to Suck Your Blood….Learning about the circulatory system and making a model of blood.

Since both boys are working on studying the human body, we decided to make a blood model.

The directions for this can be found in the Life Level one book at Pandia Press. Little Yoda is using this science for his second semester since we finished a whole year of science the first semester!

This was fun and easy to do.  We just used light karo syrup to represent plasma, lima beans for the white blood cells, lentils for the platelets, and red hots for the red blood cells.  The red hots are also fun to eat.





It was too elementary for Samurai guy but he had fun watching us.  By the end Little Yoda was able to identify each part of the blood and tell its function.


Now the only thing left to do is to figure out how I am going to get this sticky mess out of the jar.  Anybody know where I can find a vampire?





Everything But the Hair Net

One of the hardest parts about homeschooling is that I have to wear many hats.  Not only do I have to teach, but I have to be the bus driver, the guidance counselor, the principal,and of course, the lunch lady. I’ve read other blogs where the Moms (or Dads) are making these fabulous home-made lunches with all organic food, fresh bread, etc.  I can’t tell you how inadequate they make me feel.

Most days lunch time rolls around and I feel completely unprepared.  While I wish I could say that we have beautiful organic fruit and vegetables and free-range chicken, the truth is our grocery budget won’t allow for that.  With only one of us working, we have to be careful about what we buy.  But the boys do eat lots of salads, fruits, and things like celery with peanut butter.  Little Yoda would eat his “favorite salad” every day if I let him and he also loves tuna.  Samurai guy prefers pb and j with a cup of unsweetened applesauce.  They also really like chicken noodle soup, which although it comes in a can really isn’t that horrible.

So it’s lunch time again, and I have no idea what we will eat.  Do we have leftovers?  How about a sandwich?  Hmm…if all else fails they just opened a new Little Caesar’s down the road!

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

Although there are some people who find Tom Sawyer to be a controversial selection, I thought it would be a great book for Samurai Guy to read for his latest literature study.  I gave him some background reading to do from the author before he started, then left him to it.  I never mentioned that it could be considered racist and that it has been banned from some libraries. I wanted to see what he would come up with on his own.

At first I didn’t think he was going to like it and he fussed about the assigned chapters, but after a few days he was really into it and began reading more chapters than he was supposed to.  We discussed the chapters each day, but we didn’t touch on the language until he asked me what a “half-breed” is in reference to Injun Joe.  I explained to him that it meant that he was half Indian and half white.  This led into a discussion on the way Tom referred to Injun Joe and his use of the “N” word.

I asked Samurai Guy if he thought Tom was racist.  He thought carefully about his answer then said, “No”.  He went on to say that Tom was just using language that would have been considered normal for that time period and in the south.  He also commented that of course in our world today that would be not be acceptable, but it makes sense in the book.  Samurai Guy says that is just how Tom was “taught” to be.  He seemed to be more outraged by some of Tom’s naughty pranks than by his language!

I have to say, I think it is very wise of my son to realize that Tom Sawyer was a product of the times and of his environment.  After all, you’ve got to be carefully taught.  Isn’t that how the song goes?

Appily Ever After (Using Learning Apps in Homeschool)

There is something to be said for technology.  I can’t even imagine what homeschooling would be like without the internet and all of the cool new apps that are out there to help kids learn.  Little Yoda has no concept of life without computers, internet, and devices.  He makes me laugh when we go somewhere that has no wifi connection and he is just astounded.  “How can they not have internet?” he’ll ask me.  “How will I download things?”

We are lucky enough to have both a Kindle Fire and an IPad so we are able to use both Apple apps and android.  The Apple app store still has a better selection, but the android apps are becoming more popular and easier to find.

Some of our favorite apps include Where’s My Water and Angry Bird.  The kids think they are just for fun, but they also teach problem solving and physics.

Since both boys are learning to play and instrument, we got Treble Clef Kids.  This is a great app for beginners who need to learn the basics staring with middle C. There are several different versions depending on how in-depth you want and if you want to focus on the Treble or Bass clef.

For Little Yoda we have used two sight word apps.  Learn Dolch Sight Words helped him  to learn the entire Dolch list.

We have now move on to the Fry sight word list and are using Learn Elementary Sight Words.  It covers the first 400 of the Fry list through 4th grade. 

For Samurai Guy there is Pre Algebra by YourTeacher.com. This is a great way to review concepts in a less stressful way.

iPhone Screenshot 2

Some other great math apps for middle and upper grade students include the free Khan Academy app, Freddy Fraction, and Algebra Champ.  Here is a really great link to a page that gives information on lots of math apps.

tcea free must-have ipad apps for secondary math

There are just so many great apps out there, but a couple of history ones that I like are US Geography by Discovery and History: Maps of the World.  US Geography is just beautiful as well as fun.

iPad Screenshot 2

And History: Maps of the World is great for looking at historical maps.  I know that some people are turned off by the ads on the pages, but I don’t mind because the app is free.

iPhone Screenshot 2

No matter what  subject you are studying you can find a whole range of apps to download, even if you only want the ones that are free.  If you don’t mind shelling out a few bucks you can get some really cool ones.  Just be careful, though, because even if you are only spending a few dollars for each one, those few dollars can add up to a lot!



This is Easy…NOT!

We started homeschooling a year ago January. Having worked for years as a public school teacher I thought it was going to be a breeze. Boy was I wrong!

My first challenge was finding curriculum. I knew that the majority of the latest textbooks were crap so I didn’t want to go that route,(more on that in a later post) and I didn’t want to just use workbooks. So began my search for well-made, age appropriate materials. The first obstacle I ran into was that the majority of companies that put out materials for homeschooling cater to the evangelical, young earth crowd. And you thought the Flintstones was just a cartoon! To them it is more like a fond look back. They believe that the earth is only 6000 to 10,000 years old and that people and dinosaurs were living together. I’m not even joking. They even have a museum where you can go and see this in action. While I completely defend their right to teach this to their children, this is the United States after all, this is not what I want to give to my boys. Science and history in particular have been a huge issue. I finally came across this site www.secularhomeschool.com and joined the forum. These wonderful people were able to point me in the direction of many companies that sell great secular materials (or materials where you can at least take out the any offending items).

My next challenge was convincing the boys that this would be wonderful. The first month was really tough. Samurai guy was not happy at all about being taken away from his friends and his daily reading hours. I had to take it real slow with him and try not to overwhelm him with asking him to do too much. After all, he had spend years in public school where he literally was never challenged or asked to actually think critically about anything. Little Yoda was a little easier to convince, although he he missed riding on the bus every day. He missed recess time, too, but that was about it. He had all ready had enough problems with his teacher that he had enough of that for a while. I know what you are thinking, another parent with a rotten kid who is just making excuses. Honestly I’m not. His teacher was a very sweet woman, but she just did not know what to do with a little boy with tons of energy and a quick mind. It was not her fault that schools have changed so much and even little wiggly Kindergarteners are expected to sit still for hours at a stretch. Got to fill their little minds with the answers to the questions on the test after all!

The first couple of months were really rough. Even though I had been a teacher for years, this was a completely different situation. We had to decide how rigorous we wanted to be, what kind of schedule we would use, and how we would do things like art, music and phys ed. I read books, looked into things like unschooling, and took it one day at a time. Sometimes we try new things and they work out great. Other times not so much!

The best thing about homeschooling has been that we are able to give the kids a completely customized learning path that suits them and keeps that spark of learning going. Try getting that in a public school!