Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aww, I'm so proud!

You know what the main difference is between most homeschooled kids and public school kids? Homeschool kids well, most homeschoolers actually Like learning. Take this weekend my boys fought with each other over who got to do their school work first! Sure it was mostly so they could blog about what they learned (as they now think blogging is just the coolest) but its gotten them learning & writing with enthusiasm!

Today is a busy day for me. I've finished writing the lesson plan for my last Algebra class for co-op this week, but I have to print it all out. I have to figure out the bracelet design for our last Camp Halfblood class. I have to put the finishing touches on our December co-op newsletter and sent it to all our members. I have to work on the slippers I'm making my boys...AND we are setting up our Christmas tree. Eek...tomorrow I won't have a lot of time as I have big shopping (groceries) day planned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


My eldest is starting to learn about Yule around the world through the website: but, one of the moms in my Cafemom started a blog for het daughter to chronicle what she's learning, and my eldest saw HE wants one of his own. I had previously let him post through my account, but I guess at nearly 12 he can have his own... *gulp!*

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Awesome Science Websites

Ok I know I promise lots and deliver But, here's my super secret list of science websites kids will absolutely adore.

Interesting Sciences

TV Shows & Science


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Give it a little try

Ok so we all know how much I'm willing to spend on HS curricula....anyone? That's right, I aim for a big fat 0! And I mostly make it. I spend, maybe, $50/year on my 2 boys. Mostly for apps that are less than $5 each. You know it's sad when it takes 4 days to make a decision because an app costs a whopping $8.99! Man, I'm anal. Lol

One thing I love about computer programs vs apps? You can usually get a free trial with a computer program. Sure, lots of apps offer a modified 'free' version. But I don't recommend them. It usually will not give you a well rounded idea of what it will be like to use the full app because they cut so much out of it to make it free. But, most computer curricula will give you a few weeks of using the entire program to see how you like it.

Our newest trial? I wasn't sure if this was going to be worth it. My 11 y/o is a great reader. But my 8 y/o is a lazy reader! Gasp! Shock! As many of you are very aware I'm a voracious reader - at least 2 books/day. It's how I maintain my sanity. And the kids are old enough that I can make slaves of them for misbehaving...hehehe. But once they are in bed, I sit out side, rain or shine, with a big cup of decaf and read. So having a reluctant reader is stumping me.

X-man doesn't see the need to exert himself when he has an older brother or mom to do it for him. So I have been trying to find something that will interest him and help him learn to love the written word as much as I. One thing the kids fight over? Computer time. So I thought, why not suck it up and try a reading program?

So the next 4 weeks we are trying 2 different or programs. I'm trying to ignore my cheap side and let the kids make the decision based on which program they will use. - cost: $FREE

Gee, con you guess why I like this one? Lol but it is a little confusing for the kids. And no where near as interactive. - cost: $49/6 months, $75/year (you can add up to 3 students on one acct)

Gulp! To me that is a ton of money! But, the kids have been playing with it for a couple of days and are really liking it. Even my 11 y/o! He loves that many of the 'books' are half story-half comic book. And my 8 y/o loves the virtual world (and the silly music videos!)

So I'll let you know which one we end up settling on.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Greetings from VT

Ahhh, it was so nice to get away! We have been going through a stressful couple of years, so it was especially lovely that our family helped us get away for a bit to my inlaws cabin in VT. We had our family reunion this past Sat at the Groton National Forest in VT. But for 4 days it was all about the nature and 4 wheeling at the cabin. There was no internet access (much to my horror) or running water, but it was sooo worth it!

Here is my 8 y/o taking his first turn as a solo rider on the 4 wheeler. He had only ridden as a passenger in the past so he was excited. Of course, later in the day, he managed to miss every one of the millions of trees in the yard, but crashed into the corner of the house! lol Both he and the 4 wheeler were fine, we kept it in 2nd geer so they couldn't go too fast.

DJ will be 11 in just a few days. It was his first time as well!

DJ's Ride

Xman's Ride

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Experiment 12: Erupting Volcano

Experiment 12: Erupting Volcano

I know, most of us have done this a million times, but it is soooo much fun! My kids love erupting volcanos so much that we finally made a permanent volcano so they can erupt it over and over!

Supplies: (most of these measurements are rough)
6 cups flour
2 cups salt
4 tbs cooking oil
2 cups water
Empty soda bottle (16 oz)
Warm water
Red food coloring
6 drops dish detergent
2 tbs baking soda
Vinegar about 1 Tbs
Baking dish
Large bowl

  1. Stand bottle up in the baking dish
  2. In large bowl, mix flour and salt. 
  3. Add the water (from the 2 cups) at cup at a time. More might be needed. Mix until you result in a smooth & firm mixture.
  4. Use mixture to make the sides of the volcano, smoothing from the neck out and down to the baking dish, trying to make the sides sloping and smooth.Be careful not to cover the opening or drop dough into it!
  5. Let your volcano dry, you could even paint it if you want!
  6. Fill the bottle about 3/4 of the way with warm water.
  7. Add a few drops of red food coloring to the water
  8. Add the few drops of dish detergent.
  9. Add baking soda to water
  10. Slowly add the vinegar and watch the eruption!

What's Happening?
Chemistry (for older kids).
In this experiment you have several chemical reactions that happen in rapid succession. First, the acidic acid in vinegar (the stuff that makes it sour) reacts to the Sodium Bicarbonate in the baking soda, the result is Carbonic acid. But carbonic acid is very unstable, and it rapidly decomposes (an immediate reaction) into carbon dioxide and water. The bubbles in this experiment are from the carbon dioxide. The bubbles flow down the sides of e 'volcano' because carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen. In this experiment you get even more bubbles because of the dish soap.

Why do volcanoes erupt? There are several different types of volcanoes and therefore there are several different types of volcano eruptions. In this experiment we are simulating a Strato-Volcano - this is the type of volcano that has steep sides reaching up toward the sky. The eruption of these volcanos usually occurs in stages. These stages can happen in rapid succession or each stage can last days, months, even years! 

The inside of a volcano is like a bowl with a bunch of straws sticking out of it. Most of the straws go off in different directions. The 'bowl' is the magma chamber. Magma is liquified rock from deep within the earth. There are cracks, or weak spots in e crust that allow the magma to travel closer to the surface. These tunnels (like the straws in the above analogy) are vents. Usually there is one main vent, and many secondary vents.

Did you know it's called Magma when it's underground, but Lava when it's above ground?

The closer the magma gets to the surface, the more ground water is boiled into water vapor. If the vents are open, there might be a constant stream of steam that escapes the vent. This stage usually lasts the longest. Water vapor below ground build pressure. If the vent is open enough, it could release this pressure enough to prevent an eruption from happening for years!

But, if the vent isn't open enough, then the pressure with build and build. This is like shaking a closed soda bottle. Eventually the volcano will blow apart in a violent release of pressure. The first part of this kind of volcanic eruption is made up of rock and super heated gas, the rock and dust is usually what remained of the part of the volcano above the blocked vent. (look at videos of Mt St Helen's erupting, where 1/3 of the volcano was blown away!) this bstage of the eruption is called the Pyroclastic Flow - believe it or not, this type of eruption is more deadly than any other stage. Because it is so explosive, it can happen with little to no warning. And the super heated gases and rocks can be thousands of degrees in temp and travel hundreds of miles an hour! This doesn't give people much time to get out of the way. The next stage of the explosion is the ash cloud. When the volcano violently erupts, the stuff too heavy to fly flows down the side of the volcano in the Pyroclastic flow, but dust and ash is very light, most often it is made up of pumice which is very light, and this ash can be blown miles into the atmosphere, but eventually it will come back to earth. Feet upon feet of ash can fall for days, eve, weeks, after the initial eruption.

If this initial explosion destroys enough of the volcano the magma can leak out. In the final stage of an eruption. This stage isn't very often. Most often the pressure is released in the early stages. But if the magma chamber is high enough, or if enough of the vent is blown open, then the magma will spill outward, flowing downhill, much like water. As soon as this super heated rock touches surface air it immediately cools back into solid rock. Eventually this rock will again plug the hole in the end of the vent, and the process begins all over again.

To Make a More Permanent Volvano:

1 Empty Toilet Paper Roll
10 lengths of string about 18-24 inches in length each
1 large paper plate
Plaster of Paris
2-4 Roll of Gause
Warm Water
1 mini plastic bowl (I used a washed out cup from the cinnamon rolls, the one the frosting comes in) < br/> Spray Sealant (optional)


  1. Cut 4 small slits on the bottom of the tp roll, very small ones, then bend the pieces out until you have 4 'feet'
  2. Tape these feet to the middle of your paper plate
  3. Cut about 12 evenly spaced tiny cuts along the top edge of the tp roll.
  4. Tape one end of one piece of string to the bottom edge of the plate, wrap the middle of the string between 2 slits on the top of the roll, then tape the other end under the edge of the plate. Try to make the string go to a slight diagonal.
  5.  Repeat step 4 until you have a nice structure for a Strato-volcano. (you'll use all if not most of your string.
  6. Cut a roll of Gause into roughly 8 inch strips.
  7. Mix some of your plaster with water. I do this in small sections because plaster dries crazy fast, and you need to move fairly quickly.
  8. Dip a section of Gause into the plaster and lay it over your structure, making sure not to seal off the top hole, until the whole thing (even bottom edge) is covered in a nice thick layer.
  9.  Allow it to dry completely. You can do a couple of layers until you have a solid volcano
  10.  Allow it to dry, then paint as desired
  11. You can chose to seal it with a spray sealer if you think the kids will want to cause repeated eruptions (sealer will prevent the sides from getting sticky once the 'lava' starts flowing).
  12. Fit tiny cup into the top of your volcano, this is where you'll put your chemical mixture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Experiment 11: Floating Water

Experiment 11: Water Pressure vs. Air
This is another experiment that doubles as a magic tric. Amaze your family and friends with this experiment!


1 plastic bottle with a top (it can be a 16 oz-2 liter)
Sharp knife or drill (CAUTION!!)
Sink or bucket


1) have an adult use the sharp knife or drill to make tiny holes along the bottom underside of the bottle. If using a bottle that has 4 little feet (small protrusions) then put one hole in the bottom of each; if your bottle is flat edged n the bottom, then just make 4 equally spaced holes
2) fill the bottle about 3/4 of the way full with water.
3) secret cap on tightly
4) Lift up bottle and be amazed that none of the water leaks out of the holes.
5) holding bottle over sink or bucket tips slightly and watch the water come out of the holes.


Water can only leak out of the holes when air can pass into the bottle via the holes. See inside every object is a constant # of molecules. I an empty bottle the bottle is actually filled with air. If the bottle is filled with water the air is pushed out through the 'mouth' of the bottle. When holding a bottle upright, the air in the bottle goes toward the top the water, toward the bottom. In effect, the water prevents more air from entering the bottle through the small holes - so the water is acting as a plug! When you tip the bottle even slightly, some of the water molecules shifty off of the openings, ever so briefly. This allows some air to enter the bottle and some water to exit the bottle. But it looks like magic to have the water not fall down out of the holes!

Experiments 8-10: Playing with Gas Pressure

The next 3 experiments all deal with gas pressure. They are among my kids favorite experiments - but, as boys, anything exploding or seeming like magic will always be a hit!

Experiment 8: Exploding Soda

CAUTION: you'll want to do this outside away from your house, as it makes a fantastic mess.

2 liter bottle of soda unopened 1 package of mint mentos


1) set the soda bottle in a wide open space and carefully open the top. (don't shake up the soda as you want as much of hte carbon dioxide to remain in the bottle as possible)
2) this is the tricky party. You'll want to drop at least 5 mentos into the soda at the same time. I stacked the mentos carefully so they could drop, one right after the other into the bottle.
3) duck and run! The soda will shoot up about 15 feet into the air!


Soda is backed with carbon dioxide, that's what all the fizz is about. A mento may seem smooth on the surface, but in actuality the entire surface is pitted with hundreds of microscopic holes. When they are dropped into the soca much of the carbon zooms through these holes, building up the gas pressure to explosive levels, as the pressure inside the bottle becomes greater than the air pressure outside, the liquid seeks to go where there is less pressure, outside the bottle. This is a similar concept to releasing a blown up balloon - it will zoom around as the pressure within the balloon is rapidly released.

Experiment 9: the Coin Launcher


1 small bottle of soda, empty (16 oz is a good size)
1 pieces of tissue paper
1 quarters
Safety glasses


1) put the top on tightly on the empty bottle, also place it in the freezer
2) let sit for About 30 minutes
3) observe what changes to the bottle, but leave it in the freezer so it doesn't warm
4) wrap the quarter in the tissue paper
5) get the paper wet
6) with the bottle still in the freezer, remove the top and place the tissue wrapped quarter over the opening.
7) allow to sit in freezer until tissue is frozen
8) take bottle out of the freezer. Wear the safety glasses!
9) gently warm the bottle in your hands pointing away from you. Watch what happens!


When the bottle is frozen it shrinks as the air molecules pull toward the middle of the boodle. When the frozen tissue is in place of the top, it should maintain this vacuum. (if he coin doesnt shoot off, then the tissue dint form a good enough seal). When the bottle is then warmed the air molecules push back away from the center. This causes a change in pressure that pushes the coin away.

Experiment 10: Magic Card Trick

We actually first did this trick last spring for a local science fair. My youngest did the next two experiments as a part of his display on the awesome capabilities of air & water pressure!


Small glass or plastic cup (it must have a rather sharp or flat rim with no bends)
1 index card


1) fill the glass about 3/4 of the way full of water
2) lay the index card flat across the open end of the glass.
3) support the card with the flat of your hand as you quickly turn the cup upside down
4) remove your hand, amaze your family & friends with the fact that the card stays in place and doesn't fall!! (don't leave it too long upside down though, once the water soaks into the card enough it will destroy the seal and the water will go everywhere!)


The reason the card stays in place is based on 2 laws. First Newtons second law of motion: "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" and air pressure vs water pressure. (or more specifically air pressure vs the force of gravity)

Essentially the water in the cup is pushing down with the force of gravity (9.8 meters/second squared). While this force is pointing toward the ground, the air outside the cup of pushing upwards on the card. For a period of time this creates a seal between the card and the edge of the cup. Furthermore there are way more air molecules outside of the cup than there are water molecules inside the cup. This is the true reason for the 'magic'. All air molecules are trying to raise up. This means there is a pressure imbalance. It's like having a car hit a brick wall. If it is a small wall the wall will be destroyed by the car - because there are too many molecules in the car acting against the fewer molecules in the wall. But if it is a gigantic stone wall (like a concrete bridge support) then the car is the one with more damage - as there are more molecules in the wall than there are in the car.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Experiment 7: Making Rain

This experiment is fun, especially for elementary and preschoolers. We did it as a part of our study of the water cycle.

CAUTION: you must have adult supervision for this experiment as you are dealing with a stove top and boiling water. This experiment also demonstrates how temperature is one of the main factors in changing the state of matter.

  •  one hard covered book
  • stove top heating element
  • one small sauce pan
  • freezer
  • water

1) place your hardcover book in the freezer and allow it to sit there at least over night.
2) boil a pot of water (demonstrating evaporation)
3) once you have a cloud of steam rising from the pot, hold the book at an angle in the steam, making rain! - Watch out for your fingers! Steam is very hot!!


  First in changing the states of matter: This is the approach to take with older kids who may already be familiar with the water cycle. In order to change a substance to different states of matter (liquid, solid, gas) you must apply a change in temp. A solid is a substance that has the molecules tightly packed together with stong bonds, at room temperature. A liquid is one where the molecules are spread out, some have bonds to other molecules, some are free floating. A gas is where the atoms/molecules float independantly from the other atoms, no bonds between them, rarely do they interact with the other atoms.

Water is one of the easiest to see the change in matter. If you apply heat, the liquid will evaporate, this results in steam - aka water vapor (a gas). If you apply a dramatic drop in temperature (like in a freezer) the h2o molecules will bond tightly together creating a solid (ice). Now, most children are taught these 3 states of matter at fairly young ages. But did you know there are actually 5 states of matter? The unsung heroes of matter are Plasma and the Bose-Einstein Condensiate (BEC). Plasma as a state of matter was only introduced in 1879, and the BEC was only recognized in 1995!! In a BEC the atoms are even more richly packed than in a solid. Most solids are brittle because of the way the molecules are bound (ever shattered a piece of ice?), but BEC are extremely strong, and not easy to break. A plasma is a cross between a solid and a liquid. It has properties of both.

Scientists are still hard at work on understanding matter. In fact, most scientists now refer to 'states of matter' as a Phase. For example, with water. If you start at a very low temperature you have a BEC, slowly increase the temp and youll have a solid (ice). If you slowly increase the temperature, you'll get a plasma (slushy like material, some ice, some water). Keep the temp increasing and you'll eventually get a liquid, keep the gem going and eventually you get a gas. So it is like your water has gone through different phases based on temperature. In a nutshell, matter is understood based on 2 things: temperature and the density of the molecules.

Water cycle: Did you know the amount of water found on Earth hasn't changed for billions of years? The only things that have changed are the location and whether or not the water is drinkable! The water cycle is responsible for both. It is never ending, which is why it is considered a cycle. At any given moment there are millions of gallons of water all around the globe: from oceans and seas (which contain a lot of salt); to lakes, rivers and ponds which are fresh water (low salt, but higher in other natural chemicals; to clouds, snow, ice and rain! Water is everywhere. To keep water moving about we rely on the water cycle. You see, the sun heats the surfaces of most water (puddles, rivers, oceans etc.) the only water unaffected by this first stage is water found below the ground or ice. As the sun heats the water some molecules seperate and turn to water vapor, a gas. Since water vapor is lighter than air it raises high into the sky. Way up high in our atmosphere it is very cold, the water vapor then wants to bind back to a solid, but our atmosphere is vast, so the molecules have trouble finding eachother in order to bond. Istead the bond with dust particles. This is the reason for the awesome shapes of a snowflake. Many water molecules will bind with individual dust particles, growing into ever larger snowflakes (ice). The particles might even find eachother, creating clouds. But the sun strikes these atoms as well, melting the ice back to water, which is heavier than air so it falls back to the ground as rain. (in winter the snow/ice particles grow until they are too heavy to remain aloft and they fall as snow or ice!). Once the rain is on the ground it flows down stream, back to the oceans, rivers lakes, etc. Happy learning!!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to handle the epic fail

We have all been there. Our curriculum looks beautiful, we have all the supplies, the kids (and we, the teachers) are jonesing to jump in and go full steam ahead. So we start...within an hour the kids are antsy, not following directions, not completing work we know they are capable us. Argh! Is there anything more frustrating? Inevitable we keep trudging along, even though we begin to dread the start of school each day. We might even toy with the idea of putting the kinds in PS just to get a break! so, I thought I would write a little on using those epic fails to your advantage. Don't lose hope. Ever hear the saying, " you must kiss a hundred frogs before you find a prince"? This is how I tell newbies to approach HS. This is also one of the main reasons I'm against spending a load of $$ right away. Because you know what? Everyone learns differently. Not only that, but a child's learning style might evolve over time. So even if you get a curriculum that is similar to their style from the previous year, it may no longer work. There are a few things to keep in mind to stave off frustration: 1) Don't beat a dead horse. (I'm working metaphors for all they are worth in this article! Lol) If something isn't working for 1 week then STOP. It may just mean you all need a little break. So you can try again in a couple of weeks. If it is again an epic fail after another week, then let it go. Find another approach, or it may just mean they are not ready for the information (see point 3 for developmental milestones). 2) What looks good to you may be an epic fail for them. I remember when I first began to HS, I planned how I wished I had been taught - I learn by writing things down. Doing a lot of copy work, worksheets, etc. Epic fail. My oldest is a visual learner. It was pointless to have him do a ton of writing assignments. Sure I might be able to browbeat him into eventually completing the work, but he wouldn't retain any of the information. This was probably more frustrating than him just not completing the work to begin with. We'd spend literally hours on one assignment, with a lot of yelling to keep things on track, and finally (FINALLY) the work is finished and I ask, so what is blah? And he would stare at me uncomprehendingly. Even if I promoted to get the right answer, I'd still get nowhere. Finally a lightbulb went off above my blonde head - maybe he doesn't learn from writing things out? Duh. Lol. I had a whole school room devoted to notebooking that I had to donate. But even this fail is a step in the right direction. I can now eliminate any curriculum tool that is based on writing. So instead of notebooking, we changed to Lapbooking - which still has some writing involved, but is much more visually stimulating. My point here is to be aware of your students learning styles, even if it is completely counter to your own. Then try to find tools based in that style. 3) Get ready for a change! Yup. You did your year of struggle, finally found a curriculum that works, you go with it. It might even work for a few years, then it all starts to fall apart. Why? Well children are growing and changing. So too do their learning styles. Here is my own break down of typical styles-to-ages. Bear in mind every child is different, so your child might be different, this is just a guide. Pre-k - 2nd grade = Kinetic: it's all about the hands on learning, manipulatives, getting their senses involved. This is because they are just coming out of the toddler years, so their mind is still in tune with using eir senses to acquire information. If a toddler sees something new, they generally touch it, put it in their mouth, etc. well these early grades are not quite that bad, but their attention spans are still pretty short and they a not yet trained to acquire information through reading. Even with an early reader/writer, you'll want to have curriculum that is heavy on the kinetic learning. 2nd-4th = Visual: it's all about creating that picture in their mind. If you want to learn ancient history, they will remember more if you make it like a story where they can see the visual image, like a movie, in their head. They can learn a lot through short films and discussions. They are just beginning to become aware of themselves as individual entities. They still might enjoy manipulatives, but you can begin trickling in more complex content as long as you do it in a way that creates the visual in the mind. 4th-7th = Combo: these learners need a variety of tools - they can acquire information from reading and writing, they can learn through the visual, etc. they need a little of everything. Here it's time to begin cutting the apron strings. These students do much better with a bit of independance. They can make better choices. So I advise getting an outline together of what you want covered then pulling together resources that meet a variety of requirements and letting the student choose which sparks their interest. 8th-Graduation = Independant Study/Audio: here learning is really all up to them. Whether it be digesting the information delivered from a lecture, A documentary or through literature, they take whatever techniquest they have developed ov time, to process and retain information. They should also be capable of not just regurgitating information (memorization) but changing information into their own words. No matter your students personality or age, there will come a time when choices must be made. An unfortunate result could be the epic fail. But don't let it get you down. Being a HS educator is as much a learning experience as being an HS student is. We are all on a path of self discovery, growth and learning. Happy learning!

Experiment 6 - ivory soap

Talk about cool chemistry, in this experiment you can see the affect of microwaves, it is super exciting!

A bar of Ivory soap
Microwave Paper or ceramic plate

1) unwrap the soap and place it in the center of the plate
2) set the plate in the microwave and set the time to 2 minutes
3) Press start and let the time tun out
4) Once the microwave stops, CAREFULLY remove the plate from the oven and allow to cool for about 2 minutes until it is cool enough to handle the soap.
5) hold the soap in your hand, how does it feel?

The microwave heats the soap causing it to soften. The microwaves then excite the water and air molecules in the soap. This causes the soap to lose its shape and expand as the molecules try to move in opposite directions from eachother. Evaporation of the water causes more air pockets. Since the soap has softened, and the molecules have moved away from eachother and caused air pockets, the result is a foam like substance. Remember there are 3 forms of matter: solid, liquid and gas. In a gas the molecules are very far apart, very rarely do they interact with each other, there are no bonds holding them together. In a liquid, some of the molecules are bound, some are not. In a solid, all the molecules are tightly bound together. In this experiment we are changing the state of matter from a tightly bonded solid to a more pliable liquids material.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Experiment 5: Plastic Milk

Ok, I love chemistry! I think is is so fun, and educational, when you can see with your own two eyes some substance radically change. In this experiment you can change a glass of milk into a plastic! (no joke!)

  • 1 glass of full cream milk (I also suggest doing this with a variety of creams and milks if you can afford it - whipping cream, whole milk, etc, to see how it affects the results)
  •  vinegar
  • eye dropper
  • wooden/plastic spoon
  • microwave (or a bowl of freshly boiled water)
  1. fill a glass about 3/4 of the way with the whole cream milk
  2. microwave the glass for about 1 minute until milk is warm
  3. Fill the eye dropper with vinegar
  4. stir milk with spoon as you slowly add the vinegar
  5. Hold your hand over a sink (MAKE SURE THE MILK ISN'T TOO HOT!) pour the 'milk' over your hand, catching the plastic!
The cream in the milk contains a chemical called casein. When you add the vinegar, the casein separates from the rest of the milk. The molecules on casein are loosely bonded together in a chain, making form on plastic! Casein is a bonding protein found in many foods that contain Phosphoric Acid. It really is also included in may products like plastic, paint, etc. Therefore, it can be found in two forms: edible and technical. Casein is similar to salt in that it doesn't change form when added to a substance. I this experiment we can see that, as we are just separating those molecules from the rest of the molecules in the milk. Casein is a protein and acts as a binding agent. So it is an important part of making cheese and yogurt. On a side note: there have been studies that show a link in adverse effects of casein in those with autism. Many with autism have food sensitivities, similar to allergies. So families will avoid dairy, thinking they are avoiding the allergy, not realizing it is the casein (found in various other foods) that might be the culprit.

Experiment 4: Eddy Currents

As many of you know I used to be an aeronautic engineer. I helped design holographic inspections for the rockets for NASA and I also worked with Eddy Currents, used as a non-destructive testing tool. You see, there are often microscopic scratches on the surfaces of jet engine parts.the vibrational forces exerted on an engine in use, and over time, can cause these scratches to propagate into actual cracks. In order to prevent catastrophe, engine makers use ultrasound and eddy currents to detect these microscopic cracks, so they can be sanded away. Eddy currents are very cool. Anyone with a strong magnet can see them in action. So I thought I'd include an experiment that demonstrates this phenomena - which is great for kids of all ages!

What you'll need:
  •   A strong magnet
  • A section of copper pipe
  • A section of some other material pipe (or even a toilet paper/paper towel roll)
  1. Stand thepipes up on end, or your student can hold them in their hand, vertical.
  2. hold the magnet over the opening on one end of the non-copper tubing
  3. let the magnet drop, it will fall right down at the forces of gravity
  4. now hold the magnet over the opening at one end of the copper tubing
  5.  let the magnet go, watch what happens!
Understanding the experiment:
The magnet will float in the copper tube. This is the result of a specific form of Electro-Magnetic force called the Eddy current. As you know, copper is a conductor of electricity. When the magnetic field interacts with the surface of the tube, the metal begins to generate its own magnetic field/current. This was discovered by a scientist by the name of Michael Faraday. The magnetic field created in the metal opposes the one surrounding the magnet. What happens when the same polarized ends of 2 magnets interact? They push eachother away. The same is true here. The magnetic field generated in the pipe is calle the Eddy Current. This all falls within the Physics law called Lenz's Law. Older kids can research Michael Faraday and the Russian physicist Heinrich Lenz. For another simple experiment demonstrating Lenz's Law, check out the Swinging Magnet experiment

Experiment 3: Acids & Bases

For today's experiment we will be doing some kitchen chemistry. It's super easy and fun for kids of all ages! Experiment - Determining pH

What You Need-
  • Some Red Cabbage
  • Lemon Juice,
  • Baking Soda,
  • Cola,
  • Water,
  • Vinegar
  • Oil,
  • milk of magnesia (if you have it on hand)
  • PH chart (like the one found )
  • Medium sized bowl
  • Grater
  • Strainer
  • Clear cups
  • Some plastic containers
  1. grate some cabbage into the medium sized bowl
  2. Cover cabbage with cold water and allow it to sit for 45 minutes.
  3. Strain the water mixture into a plastic container
  4. Pour an equal amount of juice into the cups
  5. Add 1 tsp to all but one of the cups. Mix. This should turn the mixture blue, as baking soda is a base.
  6. Add lemon juice to one of the blue cups, a little at a time. How much do you need to add before bringing the color back to normal?
  7. repeat #6 for each of your other liquids. One in each cup. If the liquid remains blue, then your substance is a base. But you should notice different liquids require different amounts to change the color back to normal.
We use red cabbage because the chemical makeup of the juice allows it to dramatically change color when mixed with other substances. This makes it easy to see the alkaline (pH) differences. Now, a little about pH - when you mix an acid and base, they cancel eachother out, neutralizing them. There are many neutral substances though, water and milk, for example. So, what is pH? Really all acidity is is a measurement of Hydrogen ions in a substance. They more hydrogen molecules in a substance the higher the acidity. Any substance added to water that causes an increase in the concentration of hudrogen molecules is considered an Acid. And substance added to water that decreases the concentration is considered a Base. The lase category of substances, as those that help resist changes in pH, these substances are called Buffers. As they help protect the water from changing pH level. Bonus: Now that you know which substances are acids. Think of which one would best remove the grime on an old penny. The substance with the highest acidity level. This is the one that you needed to add less of to turn the cabbage water back to its original color. Drop a penny in an old cup, add a bit of your acid ad watch it work!

Experiment 2: Inertia & Tensile Strength

I love inertia, it's so fun to play with! This experiment will greatly get these kids thinking. Have them brainstorm as a team to come up with a hypothesis (prediction) of what they think will happen and WHY. We have experiment journals, here the kids keep track of the supplies, process, hypothesis, and results from all our daily experiments. Most of our experiments use things you should have readily available around the house.

  • Water bottle (or small soda bottle)
  • 4 Pieces of string about 40 cm long (cotton is best, but you can judge the tensile strength of various fibers in another experiment)
  1. tie one end of 2 pieces of string around the neck of the bottle
  2. tie the other end of ONE of the strings onto something solid like a railing, so the bottle will hang down
  3. holding the other end of the other string in your hand. Pull slowly. Where will the string break?
  4. repeat steps one-three, but this time jerk the string quickly. Where does it break now?
Understanding Inertia: Inertia is a part of Newtons First Law of Motion. "An object at rest wants to stay at rest, whereas an object in motion wants to remain in motion." Inertia is the measurement of how hard it is to get an object to change motion. For instance. One example of inertia would be how hard do you have to push the breaks to stop a car that is rolling downhill in neutral. Or, an example for kids, how much pressure do you have to apply to get your matchbox car to zoom across the room. In this instance. Inertia is proven because, in effect, the motion of your arm wants to continue on, but it comes to the length of the string. In order to maintain inertia, it breaks the, why do you think they broke in different places?

Understanding Tensile Strength: Tensile strength refers to The amount of stretching strength a material has before breaking. For instance, if you have a waterski rope, and try to tow a house with it, it will break because the force/weight of the object exceeds the tensile strength of the rope. But if you tow a boat with a thick chain, then it will probably be ok, because a steal chain has a high tensile strength. But if you add in inertia and momentum, then it decreases the tensile strength of an object because of Newtons Second law "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction"" so as you pull left an equal force yanks the rope left. The faster you pull the greater the force/momentum, the smaller the tensile strength...get it?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Experiment 1: Drinking Water from Salt Water

I don't know about where you are, but it's been hotter than Billy Blue Blazes here. (though, now I'm curious about who Billy Blue is and who set him on One of the ways we try to bear the heat is through doing experiments. They can be fun, cheap, easy and educational! Drinking water is becoming more and more scarce the world over as fresh water supplies are evaporated due to global warming and droughts. You can use the following resources to do some research on the current water shortage situation:

One of the things that has intrigued scientists from the time we emerged from the caves, was how to take the plentiful salt water of the seas and oceans and make them palatable for drinking. Ok, onto the experiment, this is a small scale version of one of the methods scientists are evaluating.

  • 1-2 TBS table salt
  • bowl
  • 3 cups water (tap water is fine)
  •  small bowl or coffee cup
  • stone
  • thick plastic wrap
  1. pour watere into the larger bowl
  2. mix salt into the water until it is dissolved
  3.  place the small bowl or cup into the water CAREFULLY, you do not want to let any of the water to flow ov the sides of the cup.
  4. Place the stone in the center of the plastic wrap, so at the wrap angles down into the cup a bit.
  5. carefully place the bowl in the sun
  6. wait several hours. You should see water droplets on the inside of the plastic wrap dripping into the cup.
  7. after a few hours allow student to taste the water in the cup - it won't be salty!
What happened:
The water from The bowl evaporated, condensing on the underside of the plastic wrap (which is why heavy duty plastic wrap is so important, lesser quality plastic wrap will allow the water vapor to escape and leave the cup empty.) salt doesn't evaporate, so essentially the evaporation process separates the water molecules from the salt ones.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cutting Corners

Ive always been frugal. I love the rush I get from Couponing, or from finding a great deal. I am always amazed to learn how much some families spend on educational supplies - both HS & PS families. When my DH was laid off over a year ago I knew I'd have to cut corners even more. I had been spending about $500/year to HS my 2 boys. Most of that as for printer ink and paper. Since his layoff, and losing his unemployment a few weeks ago, I've had to find ways to make our education virtually free. Here are my most important money saving tips: 1) Printing: Ink- Store your printer ink properly. Believe it or not, ink dries out fairly quickly. I only put mine in my printer while it is in use. The rest of the time I store my ink in a ziplock Baggie. But there are other ways of saving on ink, using refillable inks. Or, if you are someone who prints a lot, I suggest looking into Continuous Ink Systems. They cost about $45 to set up but you can print thousands of pages as opposed to the hundred or so from regular ink cartridges. Also, be sure you are always printing on the Quick, or Economy settings. Honestly they are still clear and nice (except for pictures) but you will save tons. Paper- make sure you are purchasing recycled paper. In some areas it is cheaper to purchase paper in bulk. Keep in mind color paper and card stock will always cost way more $$. Save these for very small projects. I use card stock for very little. A small package can last me nearly a year. I very rarely use colored paper unless I get a fantastic deal. I have about 3 packages of colored card stock left. I had gotten them for $1.00 per package about 9 months ago, I had gotten 5 packages. And I have used them for several classes I have taught recently. Furthermore, whenever possible, print on both sides of the page. I actually will hold off on printing until I have an even number of pages to print, then I'll print on both sides of the page. I also save paper by keeping all printed mistakes - I've accidentally printed something twice, or once it printed I noticed an error that had to be corrected. Rather than throwing away the pages, I keep them and the kids can use them as their drawing papers. I don't know about you, but my kids LOVE to draw, but not use coloring books. So we use scrapped paper. Laminate- I think I paid less than $20 for my laminator. The sheets can be purchased relatively cheaply through websites like I can print a worksheet (both sides of course! Lol) then save it to reuse with my younger son. But, if you want to give it a try, without spending the $30 startup cost, try page protectors. You can slip the worksheet into it, then use dry erase marker. These don't last as long as the laminated pages, but if you are just starting out and want to see if the technique is effective, this is a cheaper way to go about it. 2) Curriculum: I save potentially thousands each year by designing my own curriculum. You can read how I go about it I use a combination of things for our curricula. One of the main parts of our schooling is from free websites { check out my Free Website Master List at}. But one of the main factors in my curriculum is personal interests of my kids. I LISTEN to them. This way I am not stuck with a ton of materials I have paid for, but which were epic fails. Following my boys interests and curiosity virtually guarantees success. Supplies- I purchase just about all my office supplies between July & August when there are some seriously fantastic back to school sales. Where you can find notebooks for $1 each and boxes of pencils, erasers, markers, etc for less than that! My eldest sons birthday is in July and I often make gift bags with back to school supplies since we don't do candy. For larger kits, like for science, we generally ask for those as birthday or Yule gifts. Family and friends are more than happy to give a gift card or experiment kit as a gift, which can save me a bunch of money. Also, another $$ saving tip? Try to find educational supplies at non-educational stores. What I mean is, teacher supply stores, curricula websites, even office supply stores will often charge (at least) double what the same item would be at Walmart or at the Dollar store. They tack on a certain % just for using the term 'educational'. A pencil is a pencil, it doesn't matter if it cost you $3.00 or $0.25. Books- I don't think I have purchased more than 2 books for my kids. And yet we have an entire library in our house (6 bookcases overflowing with books). Most of my books I've gotten through trade. I also purchased 2 book lots on eBay for $20/each and received about 100 books. I also belong to our local Freecycle group on Yahoo Groups. I've had several local ps teachers give me everything they cleaned out of their classroom at the end of the year. Furthermore, at our co-op we do a book/curricula trade, where everyone brings in the books and curriculum they no longer need and trade it with others. (I've gotten TONS this way). 3) Technology: Internet- Don't be afraid of technology. I suggest having a DSL connection in your home and a membership to Netflix ($8/month). In fact, if you have DSL and streaming videos you can save a minimum of $100/month by doing away with cable. You can watch history and Discovery channel shows on Netflix. Computers, net books, iPods, oh my!- I've said it befor, and I'll say it again, my iPad is worth it's weight in gold!! I now spend less than $100/year to school my 2 boys mostly because I've almost stopped printing things entirely. Instead of paying $25-100/year for membership to certain websites, I instead pay a one time fee of $5 for an app. It does depend on the type of learner your student is, but my oldest is a Visual learner, my youngest is a kinetic learner, and interactive apps work wonderfully for both. And they save me a ton. I'm very excited for this fall when iPad is comming out with a smaller (thus cheaper) version, which will cost roughly the same as a kindle. 3)Groups: Co-op. we love our co-op. it helps that I found one within walking distance from our home, so I don't have to factor in gas. But our co-op has a per semester family fee of $50. To cover this fee, I teach classes. I also save $$ for our more expensive supplies by teaching a class and charging a materials fee. For instance, my kids were interested in learning about circuits, and I wanted to get the Snap Circuits set for them. But the cheapest set I could find on eBay was about $200. So I taught an electricity class at our co-op, charged the materials fee to cov the costs of getting the sets, and voila - we get to learn about electricity! Museums- I'll be honest. We rarely go to museums. They are just too expensive. But again, you can ask for memberships as a gift from the grandparents. Also, check out any special homeschooler days. Many of the museums in my area have a homeschooler day once or twice a year where the enterance fee is either waived or steeply discounted. Don't forget to factor in travel expenses as well!! So, I've been asked this about a hundred times. Here's the breakdown of my HS expenses. $25/year= books $25/year= apps $30/year= travel expenses $10/year= field trips $10/year= printing materials I don't count Netflix ($8/month) because we watch way more movies for enjoyment than for education. I also don't count our Internet connection as it is a part of our cable tv package, which is definitely not Hope this helps!

Decisions, decisions, decisions....

'Tis the season for decision,la,la,la,la, la-la, la, laaaa.. (what, you don't know that song? Lol) I don't know about you all but this time of year I like to torture myself by becomming innundated by the obscene number of choices out there, for the coming school year. So I thought for those both new (I have an issue with the term 'old' lol) I'd put together my list for swimming through the choices available without getting bogged down. here are my top 5 contributing factors/important decisions. These are the order in which I do them each summer. 1) Know Your State Laws. Believe it or not, laws can change. (gasp, shock!) In fact the educational laws in my state have been undergoing a major change over the last two years. This seems redundant for those experienced schoolers, but it's important to ensure you're following the letter of the law. Plus, some states have strict guidelines and that will make a major impact on the other decisions when it comes to curriculum, teaching/learning style, etc. so, just do a quick check at your state level, just to keep abreast of what those politicians might have done. First timers can find the laws - for easy to read. But for subsequent years, I really suggest going through your state, you can just google (state) Homeschooling Laws, and find the link to your state. 2) Money, Money, Money, mun-ay. This is one of the biggest decisions because it will have a huge impact on what further decisions are available to you. You really can HS at almost any cost. I'm super frugal, which is real lucky since my DH was laid off over a year ago. So for my two boys I spend less than $100/year. How much you can budget for education will be dependent on your finances. Keep in mind you CAN get a fantastic education for virtually nothing. So don't think you HAVE to budget thousands of dollars or else your kids will be at a disadvantage. Now once you have the yearly budget numbers (let's say $500/child, which is average). Some will decide to have a quarterly budget, or make the budget 2x/year. It really depends on your finances. Once you have the genral number of what money will be available for you to play with, you need to divide that number into compartments. You'll want to distribute/budget that amount. A good general guideline is as follows. 75% = curricula {using the aforementioned $500 as a guide, this would be $375/student/year} 10% = field trips/membership fees {this would amount to roughly $50/student/year} 10% = supplies 5% = groups and co-operatives 5% = travel expenses Now, this isn't set in stone. Seem will want more money spent on co-ops than they will on curriculum, others live way out in the boonies and therefore have to budget more for travel expenses, etc. But, this is a good starting point. My next post will include all my $$ saving tips and how I cut corners. 3) What Type Are Yooouuu? This is by far the most difficult decion, especially in the beginning of your HS adventure, IMO. Figuring out you child(ren) learning style, your teaching style and the type of HS you want are big decisions that we often make more complicated then necessary. But, these decesions will help narrow the abundant field of available curricula from overwhelming to manageable. There are a couple contributing factors and they are: A) State Laws- this is really where your state laws can be a help to you. Some states have very specific curricula requirements. HS'ers in these states will have the curricula field already narrowed by laws that require certain subjects, number of days, hours of learning, you, in those states, can search our curricula that is sufficient to encompass those requirements, but, for those of you like myself, who live in a state that has no requirements, this factor will not help narrow the field. B) Learning Styles - I can't stress enough the importance of developing an understanding of the different learning styles. A great webste for learning about the different styles is - But, there are a couple of things to remember. First, most children do not acquire a specific style until around 3rd grade. Before that time, most kids need a combination of all the styles. So if you are starting with a pre-k-2nd grader, you will want curricula that includes a varied approach to delivering information. I've always maintained that these younger kids require mostly a kinetic/hands on approach. Younger kids really need to get their hands dirty, to involve all of their senses in order to process information. But, even if you have an older student, they may require multiple aspects since these learning styles tend to overlap. If you are unsure of what style best fits your student, then I suggest doing a few unit studies and including a few different aspects. If your child loses interest or becomes frustrated, then you'll know that style was a bust. C) Teaching styles - guess what, your teaching style might be completely counter to you students learning style. So, again a few test unit studies will be helpful. In order for you to be a helpful teacher, you'll need to have an understanding of what your learning style is. Let me give you an example. I'm most comfortable with a lecture style of teaching. Where I'm spouting facts and explanations. But, my eldest is a visual learner. So he needs visual, not audio, cues in order to process the information. So I have to find curricula that is heavy on his learning style, especially since it is so counter to my own style. 4) Your Long Term Goals Ok, okay, you got me. I am an anal planner. I admit it. But having a clear understanding of your goals will also help you narrow your choices. If your goal is to prepare them to re-enter PS then you'll want curricula that best mimics those used in a Ps classroom. If your long term goals are for your kids to enter college, then you'll want to make yourself familiar with enterance requirements and plan your curricula accordingly. My general goals a 2-fold. 1) I want my kids to understand how their mind processes information. This means helping them develop good study habits and giving them a lot of independance. 2) I want my kids to understand Where to Look for information. This means I often bring up a topic and leave them to do research using various tools. Neither of ese goals requires me to give a lot of lectures, nor do they require a strict curricula format, so I can do away with curricula that encompasses those requirement, thus narrowing the field. So, answer these questions, on the day of your child(ren) graduation from HS, What do you hope these have learned? What do you hope you have been successful in imparting? How would you define your home school? What are your students prepared for? 5) Space. If you live in a tiny abode (as I do) then getting completely different curricula for each of your students will be confusing. They will have no room for being seperate from siblings and thus will have to be overhearing their siblings lessons while doing their own? Instead, you'll want curricula that can be a single lesson adapted to many grade levels. You might also pull back from an overwhelming project driven curricula as you might not have the available space for either storage of materials, or execution of the projects. I hope these are a help to all of you!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Out with the Old, in with the New?

Over the last cupe of decades, the general populus heard whispers - "are you using the New math?" Old Math vs. New Math?? Ok, I know it's a little overwhelming and confusing. I will try to explain a bit about the Old and New ways of approaching Math, but don't worry....even the experts agree the 'New' way doesn't work well.. I both love and love to hate the new math program. Has anyone heard of an 'Integrated' classroom? Or a child complain, "when will I ever use this in real life!" well New Math attempted to address these, they also tried to move past the basic computation skill we grew up with and moved toward advanced deductive reasoning. In our books and homework, back in the day of our childhood, we had line after line of the exact same type of problem working one type of process - this was in the hope of achieving wrote memorization of specific math facts. A child first learned to count. They then learned to add. Oce they had memorized adding, they moved on to subtracting. I've said it before, but old math was made difficult once a student approached algebra. This is because Old Math treated numbers and number manipulation as concrete facts. But, once a student starts algebra, they were told no, numbers can be molded and manipulated, they are NOT concrete. What I mean is, in the Old way: a student learns to count, they can recognize the shape of a 3 and a 4. Once they had mastered counting, they moved onto addition. They were told 3 + 4 = the shape the student recognized as a 7. Then the student eventually moved on to multiplication. They would see the shape 3 multiplied by 4 and they would recognize they equal 12. Once fractions were introduced it became overwhelming...why? Well we had spent years using those real numbers to achieve an answer. But in fractions you deal with the abstract - remember LCD (lowest common denominator)? We tell them, oh just multiply the fraction by 4 then solve the problem....but the student stares at the page and can't comprehend - you have changed the fraction, how can that get to the right answer? You can't just change shoes into umbrellas! They had no way of understanding that numbers, shapes, anything related to math is NOT concrete. A 3 is never just a 3, it can equal 1, 1, 1; or 4p=12 they both equal 3 but really 3 is just a label. New math attempts to start a student thinking of math as playdough or Legos. If you have a huge bucket of Legos you can choose to build a castle or a car - but they are still Legos you are using. New math attempts this, so kids learn that they can do a million and one things - but they are still just working with quantities and labels, in other words MATH! In my opinion, New Math can be summed up in one term - Discussion. New math is less about finding the RIGHT answer and instead is more about what path the student decided to try to take to achieve the problem. Some parents think we do not teach the students the pencil-and-paper shortcuts we learned when we were younger.  We DO teach them, but we just don’t rush into it.  We would rather students do things the long way first!  Why, you ask?  Our math programs must build a foundation of conceptual understanding first before the algorithms are introduced.  In other words, we have to work concretely and manipulatively first.  Students today use concrete, hands-on materials when they encounter new concepts.  Later they will learn the symbolic shortcuts we used when we were younger.  It is more important that students DESCRIBE AND DEMONSTRATE how they went about solving math problems instead of focusing on getting the correct answer. Research shows that students’ working together helps with their understanding.  When you walk by a small group trying to discuss ways to figure out an answer, you hear: “I have an idea”, “Wait, wait I got a different plan”, “Let’s try your way, then my way”, and “But that does not make sense!”  During group problem-solving, teachers are actively listening to students’ reasoning which, in turn, helps them better understand the students’ thinking.  Keep in mind that there is still time in the classroom for students to work independently and teachers know how important it is to work independently.   So, what's the downside of this new math? Well, there are sometimes too many choices! It can frustrate some minds when you say - there is no right or wrong way of finding the answer. It can be overwhelming to some, to look at an equation but not knowing which path to take to solve it and instead hear the teacher say, which one do you want to try? I think the key to success will be somewhere in the middle, giving instruction on one path at a time working mastery, but reminding the student that there are tons of ways of working with numbers!! Here are some websites:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Bet my castle will be stronger than yours!"

It's been rainy and yucky here. The kids have been a little grouchy, i've been in pain (aka grouchy)...while sitting the kids in seperate corners. I asked them what project they wanted to start next (as they have wrapped up just about all the things they've been working on since Jan). They sat quietly a moment, glaring at each other; then my youngest said, "I bet i can design a better castle than you" to which my oldest replies "no way. Mom's on my team, dad's on yours." (mind you they are still glaring at each other) Youngest, "conditions...specifications?" Oldest, "has to be designed fully in blue print form, and built so it can open like a doll house to see the inside. And it has to be at least 1 cubic foot in size" Youngest, "and it has to be made in one week" Oldest, ", can we find an architecture app?" Then my kids spent a super quiet 4 hours with rulers, pencils, and computer and ipad applications for drafting, designing their own castles. They are planning on using a variety of materials to build....can't wait! Man, nothing beats HS, when this is what arguing gets an 8 and 10 y/o on a Wednesday I'll definitely post pics. It was great - they used CAD programs to do the general design, which they then transferred to graph paper so we could figure out the exact measurements. They had to use multiplication, division and geometry to get where to place studs and windows and the arch of the windows and doors. Lol... They will begin assembly today. I'll keep posting updates! I believe they decided on using popsicle sticks and glue. They each had built Trebuchet's (catapults) at co-op this past semester, so i think the goal is to see whose can withstand the assault.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Defining Our Homeschool

I've gotten a lot of questions about our style of homeschool lately. People asking questions about everything from my teaching style, the kids' learning styles, curriculum choices, scheduling, etc. I've evolved over the last decade since we started this adventure. I've learned to let go of my death grip on the reigns. I'm one of those super anal, type A personalities. I like to have everything detailed and written out. I like to have pretty schedules and expectations. But after a time of banging my head against the wall - where I kept trying to fit these expectations and they didn't work, I had to ask myself, WHY? What was the point of the details, schedules, worksheets, etc. As hard as it is to admit, I finally came to the conclusion that 99% of it was for looks - so when others looked at our family/homeschool they'd think how fantastic it all is. It almost didn't matter if any of it was successful - as long as the IMAGE was successful. This was actually a shock.

I've always thought I was beyond seeking acceptance from outsiders, but after a couple of years of HS I realized we never fully grow beyond it. You see, I had designed these amazing (on paper) curricula, I spent tons on printing materials, ordering texts, etc. And these would work for a little while, but eventually it became a daily torture. My scolding/threatening the kids to do their work. The kids staring off into space, not answering questions correctly, etc. I felt like a failure. And I was terrified of doing more harm than good with homeschooling. So I had to sit back, take a break and analyze what I wanted to get out of homeschooling.

Why were we doing it? I had a miserable experience in public school growing up. I felt like an idiot, a feeling reinforced by my teachers. I was told I would never 'get it' or 'use it' so I should just give up. I finally dropped out of high school my junior year. I did a home study course to complete the credits needed for my diploma then signed up for a community college - because it was kinda expected. I became gravely ill my first semester of college. I spent the next two years in and out of the hospital. This was long before online learning, but I got special dispensation from the dean to allow me to continue my classes even though I couldn't always make it to the actual lectures. After 2 years I had earned my associates degree. Learning was fun and a distraction from my illness, so I transferred to a 4 year university. While transferring I had a councilor ask me what I wanted to major in. After reviewing my transcripts she recommended math or science. I explained that I wasn't smart enough for that. She looked like I was crazy and pointed out that I had taken every math & science class offered at my previous college and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I finally realized that by taking the classroom and teacher out of the equation, I was able to learn in the manner I needed. So when my kids were born, I didn't want them to grow up thinking they were stupid just because they might not learn from a classroom setting. So that was the main reason for HS. My other reason was peer pressure and self esteem. I wanted my kids to have developed a solid sense of self and high self-esteem BEFORE being faced with peer pressure. That way they would be strong enough to not get caught doing something stupid or harmful.

With these are my reasons for HS I realized none of it was being supplied by my crazy schedule/curriculums. So I started following a more child led style. We do a formal co-operative once per week. So we do 1x/week of formal schooling. That is the day we introduce new materials, break open the books, do lapbooks, etc. During the rest of the week we have no tv/video games between the hours of 10am and 3pm. During this time the kids are encouraged to learn. Whether using computer programs, the Ipad, books, etc.

You see, I TALK with my kids. I try to determine what they are interested in learning - dinosaurs, computer programming, etc. Then I find a ton of resources from a ton of different styles. The kids are then free to choose what they wish to use. Using this technique has turned my kids from reluctant learners to excited and engaged learners! They watch documentaries, they build thing, they do experiments, they write stories and have even learned how to program their own video games. If in order to build the best catapult they realize they need to understand logarithms then they learn how to do them! Much of what they do is college level things. We don't have spelling lists, nor do we chant multiplication facts. But through practical application they have learned to do both!

So we are child-led eclectic homeschoolers - and proud of it!!

Curriculum -

When it comes to exactly what that means....hmmm. Well I love technology. With my oldest being on the Autism spectrum, he's a visual learner. He gets high levels of anxiety with lots of worksheets and handwriting. So I had to throw out my ideal way of learning. I found my favorite websites and incorporated technology - which inspires him. We have 4 parts of school/curriculum - Ipad Apps, Computer Programs, Documentaries/Podcasts, Co-operatives & Writing.

Ipad Apps -
I love our Ipad. It has completely revolutionized our school. New Apps come out almost weekly, and most are free or else less than $5. This is really the bulk of our school. There are 2 parts we use -
Itunes Apps - these are regular independent apps put together by individuals or companies. Some of our favorites are the following -
Khan Academy - these are short video clips on math. It introduces new ideas and concepts.
Splash Math - This comes in different grade levels. It seems like a video game, but it doesn't introduce concepts so we use it in conjunction with Khan.
Minds of Math - This is a history of Math which is fun.
Sciences -- Painless Earth Science, Side Stax, Circuits, Science Fun To Go, TED (great podcasts)
Brain Pop - this is a fun program that changes daily, so it has themes of the day from history to geography all different subjects.
Rock Prodigy - this is an awesome app for learning to play guitar. You plug in your ear buds and the ipad picks up on the sound of you playing so it can tell if you are doing it right!! My youngest loves hearing himself play.
Irish Fiddle - my oldest is using this to learn to play the Violin
Move The Turtle - This is an intro to Robotics/Computer programming. There is a turtle on the screen and the student learns to program the turtle to follow different commands.
Freefall Spelling
Language Arts - Itooch English, Toon Tastic (this is a story board app), Painless Grammar.
Tap Typing
Barefoot Atlas - this is an amazing interactive world atlas with locations, tourist spots in a 3-d map, and the student can tap on anything and it will give an interactive lesson on it.
Itunes U - This is an app that has access from many different universities and school districts. You can sign up for an independent e-class. FREE! Or you can order textbooks (which are not Right now my oldest's favorite eclass is ALICE which is a computer programming interface designed by Columbia University. You take the free eclass, and download the Free program on the computer and voila, you can learn programming! My son just finished programming his first video game - of a biplane racing a star ship on Mars!

Computer Programs - we use these to mix things up a bit. Not often, but we only have one Ipad, so while one child is on the ipad the other can use the computer. Programs like

Documentaries/Podcasts - (ie. Netflix) This is worth it's weight in gold, IMO. Especially w/ my visual learner. We watch documentaries on geography, history, science, etc. Then the kids often set out to make models or experiments on what they learned.

Co-operatives - we do co-operative school once or twice a week for 12 weeks (2 semesters a year). Our co-ops are pretty serious endeavors. There are some fun classes like theatre and dancing, but we also have serious classes like Latin, Writing, Science, etc. We LOVE Co-op!!

Writing - I could never get my kids to cooperate with penmanship worksheets. It was torture. So we started journaling and writing stories. They would do different editions while we would helpfully critique their work. This helped work spelling, grammar and penmanship.


We often shock people with our schedule, or seeming lack of one. I used to design very detailed curriculums and we would do everything on them, but it was boring and torturous for all involved. My kids would read my anxiety as I panicked to try and get everything in. Ugh! So now we do a much more relaxed schedule, and the kids are flying through the work!

Since we do co-op once/week, I keep it to a once/week learning day. When we are not doing co-op then I'll use Tuesdays (co-op day) to introduce new information, work on a project, etc. This is a day where I'll actually teach lessons. The rest of the week (7 days a week) there is no tv or video games between the hours of 10 and 3 unless it's a program for educational purposes. During this time the kids are encouraged to learn - on their own mostly unless they ask for help/input. You see I talk with my kids a lot, finding out what they are interested in learning, Then I find a ton of resources - books, computer programs, experiment kits, etc. Then during these quiet periods each day the kids tend to grab at these resources and set out learning. Because it is based on what they were interested in, they are eager to delve in. With little to no encouragement from me, they LOVE to learn.

 One thing this has made me realize? When I was in school the fun was extracted from learning - especially with all the repetition and busy work. Plus they have to stick to a specific curriculum, so kids are not encouraged to explore and learn anything they want. See, I would have thought that w/o the strict schedule kids would just not learn anything, but the opposite is true because my kids think learning is FUN!

We school year round. So that we can take a day or two off whenever the mood strikes us.

So that's us in a nutshell. Hope that cleared up all your questions!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Behavior Bucks

I have been asked about a billion times, lately how i coordinate games, behavior, tv time,etc while doing child led learning.

My oldest would happily lock himself in his room w/ one of the game systems and only emerge to grab food or switch out games. He could probably keep this up for a month if left unchecked. My youngest emerges more often, but he has more of a strong will. So if he has his mind set one doing X and i say it's time to do Y - the battle would begin.

About a year ago, quite by accident, i discovered the key to happiness. Lol. First, i had cleaned their room of all game systems, ereaders, mp3, computers, etc. everything was moved into my bedroom closet. I wanted to start teaching them the value of the dollar, at that time. So i made each child a poster that looked like a checkbook register. The concept was they could earn fictional 'bucks' and use these bucks to get games and such. I was SHOCKED to realize it was a hugely effective behavioral tool as well.

Along the bottom of each poster are 3 columns.

Column 1-- Earnings -- these are the ings the kids can do to earn the bucks

School work = 10 bucks
Chores = 5 bucks
Being helpful = 5 bucks
Changing the litter = 5 bucks

Column 2 -- Deductions -- these are behaviors that will lose them bucks

Lying = 25 bucks
Fighting = 15 bucks
Being disrespectful = 20 bucks
Incomplete schoolwork = 15 bucks

Column 3 -- Spending -- these are ways they can use their bucks

Wii = 25 bucks
Nintendo DS =20 bucks
Nintendo 64 = 20 bucks
Computer = 15 bucks
MP3= 10 bucks
Bike riding = 10 bucks
Scooter = 5 bucks

If they choose to use some of their bucks, they are essentially RENTING the system from us. The length of time the renting lasts starts at the end of the schoolday (when they have earned their bucks for completing schoolwork and chores) and lasts until 10am the next day, when we usuallu begin school. So, the quicker they get their work done the longer they will have with their games. Oh, and they can not turn in bad work. Rushing through and claiming to be done, even when you know it's substandard work is considered cheating, aka lying, and will cost you bucks. There are exceptions to this. Using the computer or ipad for school work isn't limited. Using computer programming games like Alics (from Columbia University) or Scratch (from MIT) and creating their own games is not limited.

My goal, at first, wasn't to limit them in their play. It was to help them learn to appreciate what they have, at the same time learning economics (earnings, savings, spending, etc.) it was just a blessed surprise to realize it was also a great behavioral tool!