Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Packing Paper Art

Have you ever received a package from Amazon with that wonderful brown packing paper inside? Rather than throwing it away immediately have you ever thought of using it for an art project?

I'm not usually very artsy, but when I receive a box with perfect art paper inside I can't help myself. One time when we got a particularly ginormous piece we spread it on the floor and had the largest coloring page in the world.
That was fun. This time I hung the paper on the wall and decided to let the kids paint like true artists.
I cut off a couple of little squares from the box to make painting palettes for the kids. This was a spur of the moment stroke of genius that I don't normally enjoy, and I have to admit that I was pretty dang proud of myself for the idea. I used scissors to poke a hole in the corner like a real painter's palette.
The kids chose a few colors for their respective palettes...
...And then they painted.
Tommy painted monsters.
Lily painted Anna and Elsa in pink.
At the end we had a beautiful work of art already hung on the wall! They added to it a bit the next day and admired it each time they walked by.
*I highly recommend using washable poster paint for this. The kids were amazing at keeping the paint on the paper, but some of it did leak through the perforation and the sides. Smocks are also highly recommended (my old t-shirts in this case). 

Check out these other blogs for hundreds of fun Fall activities for kids!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Homeschool Schedule

I finally sat down and made a really complicated schedule for our homeschool days. Are you ready to hear it? It's really crazy.

30 minutes of reading
30 minutes of math
30 minutes of science/art or whatever other project we want to do

And look, I am so stinkin' artistic, I even made this poster. In four colors! I know you are all jealous of this gorgeousness, so if you are lucky, I'll post a tutorial on Pinterest so you can make your own poster. In four colors. Maybe five.
It is working beautifully so far. Most days we do school way longer than the allotted 90 minutes because my kids are having so much fun. They are learning and they don't even know it half the time! Ha ha, joke's on them :)

But seriously, I have found that if we play games they respond way better to what what I am trying to teach them than if I force them to sit down at the table, work out of textbooks, and raise their hand when they need to use the potty.

Tommy is five and starting his kindergarten year. We have been working out of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonssince about May. We got to lesson 80. 80, People! And then he had a major crash and decided he hated reading. So we have backed off a whole lot because I don't want to raise a word-hater. And I have waxed more creative in teaching him how to read.

Enter this fun word Bingo game from Lakeshore Learning. Warning: Don't click on this link if you have uncontrollable urges to purchase educational materials. Seriously, I'm like a kid in a candy store when I go to Lakeshore. I can't help it. I must buy everything!
OK, calm down, calm down. This morning Tommy and I played Sight Word Bingo twice and we read every one of the 75 words in the game each time. I'd say that's a good day of reading practice under our belts! I told him my little secret after we were done.

Me: "Tommy, did you know that we just did homeschool? And that you read words?"
Tommy: "What, Mom? I was busy telling Lily a poop joke and I didn't hear you."

Success.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dinosaurs

Labor Day has come and gone, which heralds the beginning of our school year. It's for realsies now!

We are starting out our school year learning about dinosaurs. It was at the top of the list for both of my kids of things they want to learn about his year, and the only item they had in common, so this was an easy place to start for us.

You ready for dinosaur week? Here we go!

Reading

I love the "textbooks" we have for learning about dinosaurs. The First Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life is non-fiction and contains more information than we can possibly learn in one week. With all the internet links in this book it's so easy to go deep into each subject. I would rather go for depth than breadth, but that's just me. It totally depends on how my kids are feeling and what they want to learn more about.

Science Activities

We made dinosaur fossils out of salt dough and then took them to the sandbox at the park and spent several hours playing paleontologist. It was a blast for the kids and sparked some great discussion about dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontologists.
Last year we also made a volcano out of salt dough that Tommy erupted time and time again using baking soda and vinegar. Scientists think that several volcanic eruptions may have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, so Tommy put his dinosaurs in the "lava flow" and knocked them over dead when the lava touched them. It was awesome.
If you have a dinosaur/natural history museum close, I highly suggest you go visit! There is nothing quite like walking into a room filled with dinosaur bones to inspire awe in your children. Our science museum had a spectacular animatronic dinosaur display this summer that we visited several times. Lily loved it, but was just a touch scared of the moving, blinking, roaring dinosaurs. I learned some new things, too. Like did you know that scientists now believe many dinosaurs were covered in downy feathers? Or that the bony plates on the stegosaurus' back may have been identification markers as well as a defense against predators? Fascinating.
This was my favorite display at OMSI. Scientists actually found the bones of these two dinosaurs just like this, in hot pursuit. They speculate that the dinosaurs were covered in a mud slide as they were running. If that doesn't get you excited about dinosaurs, I don't know what will!

Math

I used How Big is a Million? last year as our "dinosaur math". It does a really good job of putting numbers into perspective, plus it's just a cute story. And we're all about cute and cuddly around here, especially when it comes to dinosaurs.

Art

We made a bunch of dinosaurs out of paper using the book Dinosaur Fun. I love this book because it has such simple instructions even my five-year-old can make a dinosaur without any help from me.

Other Resources

Here are a couple of other websites where I found spectacular dinosaur activities for the younger kids. Enjoy!

Confessions of a Homeschooler has tons of "D is for Dinosaur" activities including puzzles, tracing pages, coloring, and a word search. Great for preschoolers and kindergarteners.

One Plus One Plus One Equals One has a great Dinosaur Train tot pack with puzzles, matching games, coloring, and tons of other stuff. Especially great for the littlest aspiring paleontologists!

Want more kid-friendly fun? Head over to the following blogs to get ideas for hundreds of great activities from hundreds of other bloggers!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why We Homeschool

Whew, the big question, right? Why we homeschool. We get asked this all the time.

I have written and rewritten this article at least three times now. Sometimes it's really difficult to pinpoint exactly why you do the things you do.

I think my answer to this changes every single time someone asks it. We have so many reasons for homeschooling our kids and those reasons have evolved and keep evolving as we go.

I'm going to give an answer that may not satisfy some of you. Sorry.

Why did I choose to marry Ben and not some other guy? Why did we have kids when we did? Why have we chosen to live in a tiny apartment in the city? Why did we abandon our car? Why do we homeschool our kids?

The best answer I can think of is that I have chosen things in the past and continue to make choices that I believe will make me happy. I truly live by my motto, "We Only Do Fun Things." However, what I consider fun may be drudgery for someone else, so that's important to remember.
The simple answer is that I homeschool my kids because I think it is fun. I love watching my children learn and I want to be an active participant in that process!

I don't actually have negative attitudes about public school at all. I thrived in the public school system, and I'm sure my children would, too.

But I love the freedom that homeschooling affords us. My kids can learn whatever they want and go at exactly the right pace for them. We can travel whenever we want to, we can go to whatever parks or museums we want to, whenever we want to. When it is sunny outside after raining for three weeks straight we can ditch our schoolwork and go play in the sunshine. Freedom makes me (and my kids) extremely happy.

I totally have respect for parents who send their kids to public school. People tell me all the time, "Wow, you homeschool, that's really amazing. I could never do that." But you know what? I don't know that I could send my kids to public school. I think those parents are superhuman. They get up early and make sure their kids are out the door and in school on time, they sit through hours of homework at the end of the day when everyone is already tired, they volunteer in their kid's classes and do PTA fundraisers on the weekends. They're amazing. And yeah, I'm amazing. And you're amazing. We just all make different decisions, and that's totally ok.

In short, we homeschool because we decided to homeschool. We love homeschooling. It works well for us, so we keep doing it. We only do things that are fun and we intend to keep it that way.

Whether or not you homeschool your kids, I hope you enjoy this blog. It's not easy being a parent, but my hope is that you have more fun by engaging in interesting activities with your kids. That's what I think is fun anyway. Remember, we only do fun things around here. Ever.
So whether or not you homeschool, what are you looking forward to this school year? Any big plans? Or just the everyday stuff? I would love to hear!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goals for 2014

I asked my children this week what they are interested in learning this coming year. Their answers are priceless.

Tommy, who is 5 and entering his kindergarten year, said he is interested in learning about pigeons, chess, and dinosaurs.

Lily, who is 2 1/2, said she is interested in dinosaurs, eating sandwiches, and eating breakfast.

I think we can make that happen this year, kids!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dinosaur Fossils

One of the things my kids love to do at every single dinosaur museum we have been to is dig for dinosaur bones. Whether outside in the dirt or inside at a table, they can spend literally hours unearthing bones, covering them up again, finding them again, etc. So why not bring that kind of fun home?

We followed the instructions on Craft, Interrupted to make our own dinosaur fossils, which was a fun process in itself. Then we took our fossils to the sandbox at the park and spent hours playing paleontologist. I have a feeling those fossils will be a regular addition to our sand toys :)

If you have a sensory table or a large box of something like rice or beans you can bury your fossils in there. It's just a matter of personal preference and convenience :)

Total Time: It took about 45 minutes for us to make our fossils. They have to cook for about 2 hours after that.
Safety Concerns: None on this one, except be careful with handling hot things right out of the oven.

Materials You Need:
Mixing bowl and spoon
4 cups of flour
1 cup of salt
2 cups of water
Rolling pin (optional)
Wide-mouth mason jar or large circular cookie cutter
Aluminum foil
Baking sheet
Plastic dinosaur toys
Paint (optional)

Directions:
  • Mix together flour, salt, and water. I mixed as much as possible with a spoon and then dumped it out on the counter to mix by hand.
  • Roll out the dough so it is flat. Or just flatten it by hand. You want it to be about 1/2 inch thick. (It doesn't have to be perfect.)
  • Using a mason jar or cookie cutter, cut out circular shapes and places these on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Grab your plastic dinosaurs and press them into your rounds to make impressions. We laid some of them on their side to get a full body image. For some of them we used the dinosaur's feet to make footprints! Get creative and do whatever you want!
  • Place in the oven at 350 for about 2 hours. Ours were a little thin and I'm afraid I overcooked them :)
  • Optional: If you want to, go ahead and paint your fossils after they have cooled down. We used acrylic paint on some of them and left some of them bare. Either way is totally fine.
  • Go outside and bury your fossils in the dirt or sand and have a great time digging them up together!
Remember, this is your child's craft and it doesn't have to be perfect. Many of ours didn't turn out looking anything like dinosaur impressions, but that is totally fine because that wasn't really the point for us. We had a ton of great conversation about dinosaurs, how fossils are made, and what paleontologists do. I made sure to have our Dinosaur Encyclopedia handy so we could look up the names of the dinosaurs and some interesting facts about them as we worked to make our fossils.

Print These Instructions

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Love

This week our books of the week are A Squirrel's Tale... and There's a Mouse About the House!

However, I have to say, "Don't buy these books!"

Why?

Well, for one thing, when you are trying to get ready to go to a barbecue and you are telling your children to get their shoes and helmets on, they will be so engrossed in these books that they won't even hear you. When it's time for bed, they'll want to stay up long after the lights have been turned out to read these books. Finally, they will want to share these books with their friends. And show them to everyone who comes to your house. (I know from experience, these things have all happened to us.)
I don't actually mind the fact that the kids want to read these books over and over again. They are both very cute stories with a little animal that slides through holes in each page and pops out on the next page. They teach my kids important things like we read from left to right, we only turn one page at a time, and prepositional phrases (the mouse goes under the door, the squirrel goes out the window).
I don't even mind if my kids lose the little animal because Usborne thought ahead and provided a pattern to trace on the back of the book. That was smart.

But I'm telling you, if you want books that your child is going to carelessly toss aside, these are not your books. If you want your child to watch TV instead of read books, don't buy these! However, if you want a book that your child will love over and over again and maybe even want to carry around with him/her all the time and bring with you wherever you go, then these books will fit the bill.

You have been warned! Don't blame me when they learn to love to read!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Water Power

The dog days of summer are upon us. We have been playing in water of one form or another every single day. There is the beach, the splash parks, the sprinklers, the swimming pools...and science experiments.

This experiment, constructed of very simple supplies, demonstrates how a hydroelectric power station works. Many dams produce hydroelectric power by harnessing the incredible power of falling water to turn enormous wheels (called turbines) that then drive machines (called generators) that produce electricity. The Hoover Dam is one of the largest dams of this kind, providing electricity to Arizona, Nevada, and California.

This idea came from 50 Science Things to Make & Do, one of our very favorite science activity books. Ready to see how water power works? Let's get started.

Total Time: 30 minutes to make your bottle, then only a minute to do the experiment
Safety Concerns: An adult will need to do the cuts in the bottle. Because the plastic is slippery, cutting it can be dangerous for anyone!

Materials You Need:
A two-liter bottle
Scissors
Thumbtack
Pencil
2 straws, cut into 1-inch long pieces
Tape
String
A pitcher full of water

Directions:
  • Cut the top off the bottle. If there are sharp edges be sure to put some tape over them so nobody gets hurt!
  • Using the thumbtack, poke six holes around the base of the bottle. Use the pencil to widen the holes. Don't be dainty here, it takes some real muscle to make those holes!
  • Push a straw piece into each hole and secure it with tape.
  • Make three holes at the top of the bottle and tie a piece of string through each hole. Each string should be about the same length.
  • Tie all the strings to a fourth piece of string at the top.
  • Making sure you are outside or in a bathtub, pour water into the bottle and watch it spin as the water pours out of the straws!
Print These Instructions

Check out our video when we did this experiment. I apologize in advance for the background noise: we live on a very busy street! When we do this experiment again we are going to put the holes for the straws lower. We found that the more water in the bottle, the faster it spun around, so putting the straw holes further down should make it spin faster. It would also be fun to experiment with bottles that are taller/shorter and see if it makes a difference if you put more or less straw holes in the bottom. We have a lot of hypotheses to test!
Want more plastic-bottle-inspired fun? Check out the amazing upcycling some people are doing with their two-liter bottles and caps.
Also makes a great bath toy! Or a tacky Christmas tree ornament!
TGIF Linky Party hosted by 123Homeschool4Me
Head on over to 123Homeschool4Me to get tons of free kid activities for the weekend!