Tag Archives: elementary

Seeing the Problem More Clearly

For much of her later elementary years, my fifth-grade daughter has not enjoyed “school.” While she has always loved hands-on projects and field trips, completing workbook exercises or reading assignments has been a tedious chore both for her and myself.

“Mom,” she would say as I was helping her younger brother, “I don’t get it. I neeeeed heeellllppp!”

“Wait a minute,” I’d reply. “Do what you can, and I’ll help you in just a minute.”

“But I can’t do it!” she’d continue to insist until I gave in. And just as I was in the middle of explaining the math concept, she’d interrupt with “I don’t understand!”

“I didn’t finish yet,” I would answer, trying to keep my cool. And we’d start again. And again. And again. She would fuss, and I’d become frustrated. And so have gone many of our school days for the past two and a half years.

Reading hasn’t been much better. I still have her read aloud to me, and while she knows most of the words and only has to sound out a few, she doesn’t read as much as I would like. And she certainly doesn’t read for pleasure.

But I think we’ve finally found the answer. As it turns out, a recent thorough eye exam revealed that she’s farsighted, and while she could make her eyes focus on her school books, she had to really strain to do so. The result: tired eyes, frequent headaches, and a dislike of reading.

It’s often hard for parents to know when a child needs that extra help, especially if your child isn’t in a regular classroom setting. I remember trying to look at the black board when I was in 9th grade, and squinting very hard to see it. That was my big clue that I needed glasses. But I’m nearsighted, and from what I’ve read, farsightedness is less obvious. Farsighted children tend to make their eyes focus anyway, straining their eyes and sometimes even crossing them to get the job done.

Well, now we know. The struggles I used to credit to my child’s  personality were actually due to poor vision. But now we’re both looking forward to a good second semester. 🙂

New Year’s Around the World

No matter if we’re home together or visiting other family members, we usually celebrate on New Year’s Eve with games, snacks, movies, fireworks, and of course, staying up until midnight. This year, as we get ready for the festivities, we thought it would be interesting to find out how the rest of the world welcomes the new year. Here’s what we discovered:

In England, New Year’s Eve customs are quite similar to our own here in America. Many people celebrate with parties either in their homes, restaurants, or pubs with friends and family. They also watch fireworks displays, and at midnight sing “Auld Lang Syne”. They count down with the clock and toast the new year. Sound familiar? It did to my kids!

But here are some other things we learned:

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as Hogmanay, and it’s an evening full of traditions. One of the customs is called first footing, or being the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight. This “first footer” will bring all the luck of the coming year with him, but there are some criteria he must meet. Ideally, he will be tall and handsome with dark hair, but he cannot be a doctor, a minister, or a grave digger. It’s also traditional for the first footer to carry a lump of coal to signify life, comfort, and warmth, along with a cake to represent prosperity.

Omisoko, New Year’s Eve in Japan, is one of the country’s most important holidays, coming second only New Year’s Day. Buckwheat noodles, called toshikoshi soba, are eaten to ensure longevity and prosperity. Families gather to watch the Red and White Song Festival, a television program that features singers whose songs were popular during the year. As the clock approaches midnight, many people visit the shrines and temples. Getting up to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day is another important tradition, as viewing the first sunrise is considered a good and proper start to the new year. Popular foods for New Year’s Day include fish, fish eggs attached to seaweed, black beans, and kelp. New Year’s postcards sent to friends and family are delivered on New Year’s Day, and children receive monetary gifts in special envelopes.

In Mexico, Año Nuevo (New Year’s Eve) is celebrated by decorating homes in red ( improved lifestyle and love), yellow (blessings and good employment), white (improved health), and green (improved financial situations). Families often celebrate with a late-night dinner of turkey and mole. If Mexican sweet bread is served, it was usually baked with a coin or charm inside the dough. It’s tradition that whoever receives the piece with the coin  will have good luck in the coming year. When the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes are eaten — one at a time with each chime of the bell – and a wish is made with each one.

People ring in the New Year in so many different ways! What interesting New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?

 

Photo by Matthew Hull

When Life Takes the Front Seat, Avoid Oncoming Cars

It has not been an easy week and a half. But as many homeschoolers can attest, there aren’t that many easy weeks during a school year. Schooling at home means dealing with life at home all day, every day, and sometimes life takes the front seat.  Last week, my oldest son John cut his hand, requiring a trip to the ER, seven stitches, a follow-up trip to the hand doctor, and finally today, outpatient surgery to repair two tendons. Now, I know such an event should have spurred me on to lead the kids in an investigation of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and  the anatomy of the hand, but instead I decided we should rent a movie and watch it this afternoon. And it wasn’t even educational. It was Cars 2.

We hadn’t seen the movie yet, and it had just come out as a video rental.  John thought it was a good choice, as his younger brother Luke would like it to. So, we gathered around the living room and watched it this afternoon, and I have to say…I was extremely disappointed.

I liked the original Cars movie. Aside from “feeling” like a rather long film (I remember watching it in the theater and wondering when it would end), it was a fun movie with likable characters and a good message. Luke loved it and we ended up buying it, along with all the little action figures.

But this movie was not the same at all. While (I think) the original was geared to 3-7 year old boys, this one must have been intended for older kids. The plot was complicated and way over the heads of the original Cars fans, involving an hour and a half of spies and secret agents.

What I found most appalling, however, was what else the film serves up to young viewers: weapons, torture, bombs, and even death. In one scene, a “good” secret agent is captured and tortured — the bad cars tell him he’s going to die. Then he bursts into flames off camera.

“I can’t believe it!” I said. “They just killed him!”

“No,” my kids assured me. “He’s all right. He’ll come back.” But he never did. Then, towards the end of the film, the bad cars are after Lightning McQueen, determined he’s going to die too. They even rig Mater up with a bomb to unknowingly blow up his friend.

So, while I’m glad we took the afternoon off (we all needed the break), watching Cars 2 was not the way to go. While children may enjoy the races and chase scenes, this film has little else to offer.  So, yay for John for thinking of his little brother, but boo for Pixar for not. 🙁

Art Contests for Kids

 

There are a lot of art contests for kids online, and homeschoolers are encouraged to enter them as well.  Our school days at home are fairly relaxed, so contests provide some healthy structure to our work. By participating in a contest, children have a definite goal a deadline to meet. They also recognize the need to present their very best work, even if it means re-doing something that’s already completed. If they win, they experience the thrill of victory, and if they don’t, they learn how to take defeat in stride to try again another day. They learn, as Henry Ford stated, that “failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  (Love those “failure/success” quotes!)

If you’d like to encourage your child to enter an art contest, here are a few to check out:

  • Constitution Day Poster Contest – This contest for ages 3 -12 celebrates the U.S. Consitution. Children are to create an 8 ½” x 11” poster showing how they have benefited from the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. A fun and creative contest, but you have to hurry – the deadline for submitting entries is October 1.
  • Teachers Against Prejudice is sponsoring an art contest for students in grades 1-4. The theme for the artwork this year is “Sharing Cultures.” Entries must be submitted by October 15.
  • This is My Math Art Contest sponsored by McGraw-Hill is for students in grades K-5. Young artists are to illustrate “What math means to me” and enter their work by October 29.
  • NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest – Have a wildlife artist in your family? If she’s 18 or under, she can enter this contest with her best drawing or painting of an animal. The deadline is November 1.
  • Smilemakers Pearcasso Art Contest – If your child likes to play with his food at mealtime, this may be the perfect contest for him! Artists ages 5-18 are to create their artwork with pears! Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Decide to Drive Poster Contest – For students in grades 5-8, this contest focuses on the importance of driving without distractions. Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Frogs are Green Art Contest – Kids ages 3 – 12 are invited to enter this contest focusing on green living. The deadline for submissions is November 30.

All About Egypt

This year, my younger children are  going to be diving back into world history. Because we did a little bit over the summer, I decided to start off the new school year by reviewing ancient Egypt. While we’re using the Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer as our primary text, we’re also supplementing with some great books from the library. And, as always, I’m learning a lot right along with them!

If your family is studying ancient Egypt, here are some resources you might like to look into:

Books:

Ancient Civilizations – Egypt by Christy Steele.  A nice book to read aloud together or assign as silent reading for older elementary students. Includes a glossary in the back.

The Great Pyramid by Elizabeth Mann – The story of the Pharaoh Khufu and the construction of the Great Pyramid. Contains both actual photos and traditional illustrations. While older students could read this book  on their own, it’s one I would choose to read to them, as we could go over all the information as it’s presented.

Tutankhamun by Robert Green – A book full of information about King Tut and the discovery of his tomb. Contains  interesting photos, including one of Tut’s mummy and one of the dig site at the Valley of the Kings.

Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself – To add in some hands-on learning, check out this book with projects such as making boats, papyrus, bread, jewelry, and hieroglyphs.

 

Other Resources:

Ancient Egypt Unit Study and Lapbook by Jodi Small – Contains a library list and over 30 “minit” books.

Ancient Egypt Lapbook by JoAnn S. – Includes a reading list, activities, crafts, and cooking ideas.

Ancient Egypt Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities
by Mr. Donn – lots of lesson plans featuring the geography, history, religion, art, and daily life of ancient Egypt.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery for Kids
– Ancient Egypt – online activities featuring ancient civilizations, including Egypt.

 

Photo by embalu

A Pig Parade and a Cupcake

This summer, my children participated in our library’s summer reading program. To win all of the prizes, younger kids had to read 80 picture books (that was a lot of books!). Needless to say, we made multiple trips to the library looking for new books to read. Some we read were pretty good, and some were not so good. And two of the books that we read really surprised me. They were A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Micahel Ian Black and Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper.

While I figured A Pig Parade would have be one that the kids would enjoy, it actually turned out to be so much fun for me to read aloud. While it doesn’t tell a story, it does tell you why you shouldn’t try to have a pig parade. Discussing everything from the majorette uniforms to the music  to the floats and balloons, the book offers convincing arguments for avoiding a piggy production. It has some bigger vocabulary words, making it a very entertaining book for older children and adults.

The second book that surprised me was Cupcake. This one features a cupcake that thinks he is very plain. All of his decorated brothers and sisters are quickly chosen (and eaten!), while he is left behind. As I’m reading  along with my kids, I was thinking this was one of those books that was going to be very hard to get through. It was obvious what the moral was going to be, and it seemed so “cheesy” (or rather, “sugar-coated?”), that I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the book. However, we needed to read 80 books, so we kept going.

Well, about half-way through the book, the cupcake meets a candle that is also plain. The candle has the idea of putting different things on the cupcake to dress him up a little.  The things he chooses are so funny — pickles, smelly cheese, even a squirrel! By this time, we are all laughing, and then my daughter guesses what the ending will be — the candle will hop onto the cupcake. But she has guessed incorrectly, and the surprise ending brings even more laughs. No lesson — just fun.

So, if you’re looking for an afternoon read to enjoy with your kids, give a pig and a cupcake a try!

Rice Bowls

This week was an exciting one in our extended family as a new addition finally arrived. My niece and her husband brought their new addition home — all the way from Africa!

While I waited nine months for each of my children to “arrive”, my niece had a much longer wait for her new daughter. As we followed the updates online, the new baby was always in our thoughts. And at the homeschooling convention we attended this spring, I came across a program that helped us do a little more.

The program is Rice Bowls, and it’s so easy. All you have to do is receive a “rice bowl”, a hollow plastic bowl of “rice” with a slit in the top. Then, as you come across extra change, drop it in the bowl. Once the bowl is filled, break it, count the change, and send a check or make a donation online to RiceBowls.org for that amount (one bowl holds about $30 in change). The money you send goes directly to the food budgets of the orphanages partnering with the program, which are located in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, India, the Philippines, India, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, my new niece’s homeland.

And it really is so easy. The plastic bowls are free — all you have to do is contact the organization and tell them how many you need. You could order just one for your family, or you could order 10, 20, 50, or more so your church or co-op could participate. They also provide downloadable posters and promotional tools online.

And for the homeschooling family, the website offers lessons for elementary and middle school students. Under the tab marked “Resources”, you’ll find lessons in language arts, math, and history.

RiceBowls.org feeds around 1500 orphans, and they’ve created a way of helping them that anyone can do. Even small children can put change in the bowl, and older children have fun breaking it when it’s filled. And in the process, your family will be learning lessons in giving and compassion that will last a lifetime.

Back to Junie B.

Until recent activities made life quite hectic, I often read stories to my children at the table as they ate their lunch. Sometimes I would read a couple of picture books to entertain the younger ones, or sometimes I would choose longer books, reading a chapter or two at a time.  One of our early favorite was the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park. We went through all the books our library had and enjoyed every one.

At the time, my youngest, Luke, was probably about three years old. He sat for the stories  and seemed to enjoy them too. But it never occurred to me that now, three years later, he didn’t really remember them. That is, until we were in a used bookstore about a week ago.

Searching the shelves for books to read, I found a stack of Junie B. Jones. “I remember this one,” I said.

My daughter Cassie picked up another. “This one was really funny too.”

“And this one was my favorite,” I answered, holding up yet another.

Luke just looked at us. “Do you remember these?” I asked, and he shook his head. So we bought a few of them before we headed home.

That night, we decided to read for 1/2 hour. We read the first Junie B. Jones book and got about half-way through it. Of course, I had to change my voice for each character. And speak very loudly when Junie B. is yelling. But that’s all part of the fun. (There are some words that parents may want to watch out for — Junie B. uses the words “stupid” and “hate” sometimes, so when I’m reading aloud, I change or omit them altogether.)

We finished up that book the next day, then started in with the second one. Within a couple of days, we had read all the books we had purchased. Luke looked a little concerned.

“Don’t worry, ” I told him. “I’ll get some more from the library.” When I brought home four more, he was excited.

I went into the kitchen to wash some dishes, and he came in too, carrying the books. “Mom,” he said, “may you read me some more of these sometime?”

What a great question! I had to smile.  “Yes, I may,” I said. So no matter how busy our days become, we are back to Junie B.

Books for Advent

When my oldest son was much younger, a friend of mine introduced me to the three-book advent series by Arnold Ytreeide. I borrowed one of hers and purchased another, and I was glad I did. Soon after that the books were out of print, and for a while the only ones available to purchase were very costly. Happily, though, another publisher picked them up, and I can recommend them again!

The series begins with Jotham’s Journey, the story of 10-year-old Jotham who, while searching for his family, encounters many dangers, including robbers and kidnappers. Along the way, Jotham also meets shepherds, wisemen, and innkeepers, until he finally finds his way to the Savior born in a stable.

In Bartholomew’s Passage, young Bartholomew faces the destruction of his village, the loss of his family, and his own enslavement. Readers can follow along as he escapes, reunites with his family, and finds the Christ child in Bethlehem. And along the way he’s made a new friend — Jotham!

Tabitha’s Travels is the third book, featuring a young shepherd girl named Tabitha. As her family is traveling, her father is taken prisoner by the Romans. During the course of the story, Tabitha spends time with Elizabeth and Zachariah and helps Mary and Joseph just before Jesus is born. She, too, finds some new friends — Jotham and Bartholomew!

While it sounds like you might be doing a lot of reading this Christmas season, don’t worry — the books are designed in such a way that you would read just one book a year. The first year, then, you can read about Jotham, the next year Bartholomew, and then finally Tabitha. Or, you might choose to begin with Bartholomew or Tabitha instead.

Each book is divided into short chapters, one for each day of advent. And each chapter is suspenseful and exciting, ending with a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following day.

If you’re looking for a good book to read with your children this holiday season, try one by Arnold Ytreeide.  It’ll be a Christmas adventure your children will enjoy. And who knows? It might even become a new holiday tradition!

What’s Going On In There?

This summer, our library presented its annual children’s summer reading program. After reading for 10, 15, and 25 hours, children could win prizes such as passes to a local water park or ice skating rink, free ice cream from Chick-fil-A, and more. Although it didn’t sound like a lot of time, we got a late start, and those first 10 hours of picture books for my youngest added up to about 80 books we had to read! Every time we went to the library, I felt as if I was clearing a lot of their shelf space. 🙂 While I tried to find books we hadn’t read before, I came across some favorites as well, on of which was What’s Going On In There? By Geoffrey Grahn.

In this book, things are not always as they appear. In each double-page spread, the pages on the left are used for the text, and the pages on the right for the illustrations. There you’ll find a building with windows, with a silhouette of a person, animal, or object in each window. The fun, then, is to guess what’s going on — to guess what the people or animals are doing. With a turn of the page, the reader discovers what’s really going on, and it’s usually not what you were thinking.  What looks like people pulling saltwater taffy is really astronauts preparing to launch their rocket; what appears to be students taking a test is actually a swimming class.

This book is a fun one for all ages. Younger children (and parents!) will be surprised by the revelations, and older children will have fun guessing. The author/illustrator has even provided the reader with some clues: look closely at the outside of the buildings where you see the silhouettes for hints of what’s inside.