Everyone knows that learners of all ages learn more and retain more when they enjoy the experience. Here are ten ways to make learning come alive.
1) Go on a relevant field trip. |
Whenever I'm planning a history or literature unit, I hunt for relevant field trips to add to my lesson plans. I think beyond the obvious to widen my search when necessary. I don't always find something, and I don't always have time to hit every field trip that I'd like to take, but just the search ensures that we get out and have more interesting experiences.
2) See a play.
Many community theaters offer inexpensive ways to enjoy their plays. In the past, we've enjoyed many plays from one theater that offered a sneak preview during their final dress rehearsal; admission was pay what you can. Another theater that we have enjoyed had one $5 "Thrifty Thursday" for each of their plays. High school theater classes often have public showings and can be reasonably priced as well. Sometimes you can even find a play that ties into a history topic or novel that you are covering in the current school year. If not, enjoying a play still fits under the subject of fine arts appreciation. Have your students write a critique, and it becomes an English assignment as well.
3) Make some art.
Scour art teacher blogs and Pinterest for projects that can tie in with time periods or geographical areas that you are studying. Search for projects based on a novel that you are reading. You can almost always find something that fits. Art Projects For Kids is one of my favorite art teacher blogs.
4) Play some games.
It's pretty easy to find games that work on almost any skill you are working on.
5) Build a diorama.
Pretty much every historical concept or novel can be used to build a diorama. As part of the process, have your student research the time period to make the diorama more realistic. If based on a novel, the project becomes English, history, and art all rolled into one. Here's a literary diorama my daughter made a couple of years ago for our library's peeps diorama contest.
6) Utilize mainstream movies.
Yes, I know most mainstream movies have elements that aren't accurate, but nothing helps a student understand better than a good visual. Afterwards, you can talk about what was realistic and what artistic licenses were taken by the director. This website has lesson plans for just about every history period and location you could want.
7) Add some music.
See if you can find period music to go with your history students or literature. Enjoy a concert or two. Learn about the time period or location in which the genre of music became popular. Do a biography of a famous musician that utilized the genre you heard.
Add community service to your school year. Is there an assisted living center, food bank, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or humane society you can help out for an afternoon? Nothing teaches social studies better than helping people in need in your community.
9) Give them a choice in how to present their research.
Would your student enjoy making a short movie? A news show? A computer game? A board game? Sewing a costume? Designing a map? Putting together a tri-fold board? Writing a short picture book? Not every research project needs to enjoy in a paper.
10) Design or replicate a science experiment.
What was discovered during the historical period you are studying? Can you design a corresponding science experiment? Need a biography to add to your literature studies? How about choosing a scientist and trying out a related experiment? If you have older kids, have them show the younger kids some kitchen science experiments? In my home, my littles often watch and/or participate in the labs the bigs are doing. Sometimes I run into a fun experiment for the littles that we didn't do with the bigs, so they take a few moments to join us. I'm using this book with my littles this year, along with other experiments I find online.
Looking at my calendar, I thought today was going to be the easiest and quietest day of the week. It was the only day that I expected to be home all day, able to focus on homeschooling, chores, and cooking. Each day for the rest of the week has some sort of outing that I'm committed to attending. All those evening events mean I have little wiggle room for getting dinner done, which means a little more stress getting everything else done earlier in the day. Today was not the peaceful day I expected.
The day started off with me waking up a bit later than I wanted to. I was tired, and had trouble getting out of bed. I managed to get dressed and feed the kids bagels for breakfast, but my usual chores didn't get touched.
Once 9am rolled around, I made a call to the vet. Our 14 1/2 year old cat has been getting older and older and sicker and sicker. We decided over the weekend that he's suffered enough. So I was calling to see about making an appointment to have him put to sleep. They asked if I could bring him in at lunch.
Having made the call, I returned to getting school done with the kids. Despite wearing jeans and a sweater, I was cold. My daughter has been living in sweats and a sweatshirt and complaining about being cold. We knew our furnace wasn't working, but we hadn't put in a maintenance ticket yet because the property management company and/or owner has been dragging their heals on a much bigger issue. I decided to go out to the shed to get some wood to build a fire in the fireplace that happens to be in our school room. Heading out with gardening gloves, to protect my hands from spider bites, I instructed my eldest to wait by the door to let me in when I came back.
I headed out to the shed and started grabbing some pieces of wood. Most of this is cut up branches of fir that fell during a big snow and ice storm. It had a lot of dirt and some dried out fir needles and spider webs on it. So, I decided to try to clean up each piece before throwing it in the bin I was using. Some of the pieces I thumped against the floor to loosen the debris. About 7-8 pieces in, I suddenly feel a very sharp pain in my shoulder.
With spiders on my mind, I first wondered how a spider had gotten inside my sweater. I started swatting at my shoulder frantically while running out of the shed door. I stopped just outside the door, still freaking out about the spider when I felt another sharp pain on my ear and another on my upper lip. At this point, I realized I was under attack my some sort of winged, stinging insect and took up running full speed, waving my arms frantically to the deck, up the stairs, across the deck, down the stairs, and towards the sliding glass door where my daughter was waiting for me to return with an armload full of wood. I yelled, "Open the door!" as I approached.
Seeing my running and waving, she realized I had been attacked by bees or something. Bless her heart, she opened the door for me. (She later admitted that she opened it because she knew she'd be in huge trouble if she hadn't.) As I ran through, I yelled, "Close the door! Close the door!" I ran through the kitchen, stripped off my sweater, and kept running to the bathroom to look at the damage. While in there, I felt a sharp pain on the top of my head. I managed to swat the thing dead before it got any venom in, because that spot did not continue to hurt.
I stepped on it to make sure it was dead and ran back to the kitchen to frantically make myself some baking soda paste, yelling to my son to get me some Benedryl. (I've been stung before...30 years ago by a honey bee...so I was pretty sure I was ok, but I wasn't sure what three yellow jacket stings would do.) Then I ran back to the bathroom to smear baking soda on my lip, ear, and shoulder. All this time, I'm breathing so hard and fast, I'm practically hyperventilating, and I'm shaking so bad, I was having trouble stirring the baking soda and water together. Did I mention that I've had an exaggerated fear of stinging insects for years?
I finally calmed down enough to grab my tweezers and pick up the dead wasp on the floor, grabbed this picture, and flushed it.
I headed back into the school room to try to calm down when I saw a rather angry yellow jacket running repeatedly into the walls. I sent the kids to the girls' room, and told them to close the door and stay in there. I didn't want them to get stung. I called my husband, told him what had happened, and found out that he was nowhere near coming home. Between my fear and the shaking I was experiencing from the ordeal, I knew I couldn't take care of the wasp myself. So, I headed outside to go knock on my neighbor's door. I saw that our favorite neighbor had arrived home and went there instead. He didn't answer, so I came home and texted him. Then I saw that he was coming out his door so I called him over. I told him what had happened, and near tears asked if he would kill it for me. Then I joined my kids in the bedroom.
He called that it was dead, so I came out. He has wanted to come over to talk about the furnace and the other problem. (He's awesome and has been trying to help us solve the problem that the management/owner are ignoring.) While we were talking, I caught a glimpse of another wasp, screamed and took off running. He killed that one too. Then he checked my sweater that I had peeled off and left on the kitchen floor to see if there were more hiding in there, and suggested I wash it.
Then he closed the fireplace flue for me. I was envisioning a swam coming through the fireplace. Did I mention that phobia of stinging insects that I have? And then he fixed the furnace. It turns out that the property management's inspector and replaced the cover wrong when she changed the filter which deactivated the fan.
Then he looked for the source of the water leak again and proposed another possible cause since no source of leaking could be found. Then he went home and contacted an insulation company to ask if his theory was plausible. When I got home, I borrowed a dehumidifier from another neighbor and got it going in the master bedroom (three bedrooms and the living room have wet carpets when it rains).
Finally, it was time to take the cat to the vet, so I left. It's not the easiest thing to drop your cat off to be put down, but we knew it was coming soon, and I'm normally calm about such things. On the way home, I stopped at the library to pick up holds.
Shortly after that, the insulation guy came to the house, and my neighbor showed him around while they investigated the moisture problem. While they were doing that, they discovered a new problem with the house...lovely. Fortunately, it isn't a huge problem at this moment. Unfortunately, they did not find any indication of a leak anywhere. The current theory is that there is any airflow problem and humidity in the air is getting condensed into the carpet...part of the modern houses are too tight problem. He proposed that we get one room dry with the dehumidifier, get the furnace fixed/rigged so the whole house fan can be run without the heat having to be blasting, and see if that fixes the problem.
Between being stung, taking the cat to be put down, and dealing with trying to fix things (and the lease tells us not to fix things...to file a maintenance ticket and let them
It's been about twelve hours since I was stung. There is still a bit of ache in my shoulder where I was stung, and my lip has a stinging/tingling sensation still. The dehumidifier has been running for about nine hours and has pulled 20 cups of water out of the air. I'm looking forward to the rest of my week being as uneventful as today was suppose to be.
I knew this year was going to be the toughest yet. With Madelynn demanding to do school with real curricula of her own, I have the schooling of four kids to manage. Mikaela began high school this year, and Sam is working right along with her using the same curricula. This is the first year that I feel the need to buckle down, get it all done, and actually maintain grades and real records. There's a certain amount of stress that comes with beginning high school: it counts now.
I knew that I don't have as much flexibility to just go with the flow; that leads to not getting things done. I knew I needed to figure out how to get it all to fit into the day. I knew I needed to follow a schedule even though that is so very hard for me to do. My first attempt at creating a schedule was too complicated and didn't work. I spent time this weekend revising, and came up with a simpler schedule that seems to be working.
First, I created my very own school bell. I found out a few years ago that having bells to denote the various times of the day really helped to keep us, and me especially, on track. Without them, I get distracted or hyper-focus on one thing, and we end up having either very long days trying to catch up or not getting things done. We don't like either consequence, so some sort of school bell is good for us. I went with the simplest option: a bunch of alarms on my cell phone. I even downloaded a school bell sound, just for fun.
Here's how our day looks:
Everyone in the family must wake up and be ready to go before 8:00am. For me, that includes waking up, showing, getting dressed, making my bed, starting a load of laundry, feeding the cats and dogs (or asking someone else to), and putting together breakfast. Until I get all of my planning odds and ends wrapped up, breakfast consists of easy things like cereal, bagels, english muffins, fried eggs and toast, and scrambled eggs with mix ins.
At 8:00am, we all eat breakfast. After eating, we brush our teeth and get ready to start our morning.
The littles get to start their day watching a TV show. If I have one, I'll tell them to watch something that goes with what we are learning about. This morning they watched The Magic School Bus Shows and Tells, which is about archaeology, our history topic for the week. Meanwhile, the bigs and I do what I'm calling the Morning Meeting. We discuss their Bible assignment, watch and discuss the CNN Student News for the day, go over any little bits of trivia that I want to share with them, and discuss the schedule for the day if there are changes.
Once we are done with the Morning Meeting, the littles join us in the school room for their work. I read them a story out of Egermeier's Bible Story Book and then work with them on their individual subjects. I get Maddie started on handwriting and then do phonics with Josh. Then I get Josh working on handwriting while I do phonics with Maddie. Then they both work on math. If Josh finishes before Maddie, he works on a page of spelling and a page of language arts. These are both Spectrum workbooks, which are a quick and simple way of introducing both subjects without a lot of stress. Then we work on history and science together. I'm finding that I have to keep both of these very short because Josh just doesn't have the attention span for content subjects. Meanwhile, Mikaela and Samuel work independently. I'm available for questions, but it is generally understood that questions should wait until later so I can get done with the littles.
At this point, I am done with the littles and make lunch.
Everyone takes a break to eat lunch.
Maddie takes her nap immediately after lunch. Josh is free to do what he wishes. His only limit is that he cannot play on the computer if someone is using it for school, and if he does play on the computer, he can't have the sound on. That is because the computer is in the school room where we are trying to work. Meanwhile, I teach Health to Mikaela and Samuel.
The big kids and I move on to Spanish. If it is the beginning of the chapter, we move to the living room to watch an episode of Destinos. If we are working in the textbook, we stay in the school room to do the activities as a class. Some activities require the use of sound files online, so we use my laptop for those. If we are working in the workbook, we move to the living room so we can use the stereo to hear the audio CDs. Obviously, if Josh is using the TV, he gets kicked off as school takes priority.
At this time, I continue working with Samuel and Mikaela if needed. This is the time for those activities that don't come up every day, like science labs or vocabulary discussions or tests. If I'm not needed, I use this time to grade the day's work.
Maddie is awake by this time, so I have determined that once a week, this time will be designated for art. Otherwise, I work on grading and chores during this time.
It is my goal that I start cooking dinner at this time. It hasn't happened yet, but it is the goal. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I have to have dinner ready earlier so I'll likely force myself to stick to this goal those days, while other days it is less important.
The rest of the evening is devoted to eating, cleaning up after dinner, grading, chores, taking the big kids to their social activities, and free time.
After spending a week attempting to do school all together in the same room, we decided that our previous two small tables push together wasn't going to cut it. We were just too crammed together, and I was sending Maddie out to the living room alone so I had room to work with Josh on his school work. Making her spend so much time alone is not part of my plan.
Here's how it was set up last week:
It's a little crammed. Both Mikaela and Samuel really like having their various textbooks, workbooks, and primary resources all within arms reached. They were a little tight on space, but seemed to do fine. Plus, they moved around when they wanted, working on the computer or reading on their bed or the couch.
The biggest problem was the littles' side. There just isn't room for three of us and the stuff we are working on that tiny table. Even if Josh and Maddie only have the paper they are working on, there's still no room for the things I need to keep busy while supervising their work.
So, we moved the dining table into the school room. Here's how it looks now.
There's a lot more room now.
Here's Josh and Maddie's side of the table. They have their notebooks, science journals, MUS blocks, and crayons within reach. I have room to sit at the end of the table where I can see the big kids for discussions, work with the littles direction, and have room for my own stuff.
The dining room is looking less and less like a dining room though:
It's now a cross between a home library and an art studio.
We usually eat in the living room anyway.
After much planning and gnashing of teeth, we reached the first day of the new school year. Gosh, I didn't know if we were going to make it, or if I was going to have to make up something to call school before I was done planning. The kids just needed something to do besides screens!
The plan today was primarily emptying out the notebooks of last years papers, getting them set up for the new year, and explaining how each subject was going to work this year.
Normally, I'd have the notebooks cleared out and my work samples filed into our records already. However, I totally dropped the ball last year, and we ended up with a disaster of a year. I dropped anything that looked like English. We read books and talked about them, but I had nothing to show for it. Then we got so far behind that it took up to this past Friday to finish math. And we didn't even finish state history yet. We are NOT year round home schoolers. Getting any of us to do anything that looks like school work during the summer is nearly impossible. I finally had to accept that getting math done so we can move onto high school with a clean slate would be good enough. None of us want to do that again, so everyone is motivated to get down to business, and neither of the big kids want to take days off and get behind again.
Once we got the notebooks emptied, we set them up for the new courses. This was the easy part; all we had to do was put in new dividers and label the tabs.
This year will be very different from previous years, primarily because Mikaela and Samuel both start high school level classes. I feel that I need to be more organized and on top of things to be able to do high school well. I too readily drop things in favor of doing something fun, especially if I'm not well-prepared. We just wouldn't be able to get a full credit's worth of work done in a year. And I'd have very poor records to show for it. And I would have very inconsistent grading methods. So, to fix all of that, I decided to write a syllabus for each of their classes...and I even got most of them written in time.
Why a syllabus? Well, because I had read that some other moms actually do this. And it will acquaint the kids with syllabi. And it will be a written record of how the class will work, what kinds of assignments there will be, how their grade will be formulated, etc. They won't be able to argue about what is expected. I won't forget how I intended to grade. There will be consistency. Yeah!
So, we spent today emptying binders, adding dividers, and reading through syllabi. As we discussed each class, I was able to pull out the books they would need, show them how the curricula were organized, let them know that they weren't getting away with giving me bare minimum this year. Yes, you have to participate in Spanish because you can't learn it without actually speaking it...out loud. And to make sure you participate, I'll be grading you on participation daily, and it will be part of your final grade. Yes, you actually have to keep your papers in your notebook rather than lying around all over the house in random locations. Yes, you will be graded on having an orderly and complete notebook. Yes, you have to write lab reports and here's how they will be graded. Basically, there's a lot of bad habits that need to go away, preferably before they move onto college. And it's all my fault because I've been way too inconsistent. Not this year.
We also have a new set up in our school room. We put two tables that we happen to have together to form one larger table. The big kids sit facing the white board since they'll need to see it more. We put books that they share in the tipped over crate and their individual books in the corner on their side. They like having them all within arms reach without having to get up and hunting for them in the bookshelf. On the smaller table, with their back to the white board, the littles will do their work. In the photo, their table is cluttered with my stuff because I didn't have them doing much today.Overall, the day went well....and very long...thanks to a Maddie meltdown (they are legionary around here) and a surprise visit from the property management's handy man. But the kids didn't complain, and we'll all set to get down to business tomorrow.
How did you first day of school go?