Friday, September 02, 2011

Homeschool Desert

We've finished 6 weeks of homeschool and are taking a one week planned break.  I thought I would do a summary post of homeschooling so far because it is so easy to forget the things we learn and do together.  Before we started, I kept wondering how I was going to keep from losing myself, who I am as I added another role to my world as teacher.  I am surprised to discover that I have not lost myself at all, but instead am becoming more of who I am.  It feels like this is what I was made to do.  No, I don't mean that every day is perfect and that we are always shiny happy people holding hands.  We have our down days, but the overall experience is such a blessing.  This is the right thing for our family to do at this time in our lives.  I can already see our relationships with each other growing closer and stronger.

We really like having our school nook right there in the living room. After all, this is how we live, we are always learning, it's a part of our lives.  It's not something we do just during "school time."

The white board in the kitchen is great, too. Abby can write out the menu or other copy work and I can help with spelling while I'm cooking dinner.  By the way, this particular verse on the board is mostly for me to remember.

We rearranged our living room furniture so the couch is next to the window. This allows for the best lighting while we read, and we can all pile on the couch together. When we read a story, it's a short trip to the kitchen to find where it took place on the map.

The craft caddy has cut down on trips to the closet, where I kept the craft things before. We just take the caddy wherever we are working at the moment.

In the living room, they each have small desks that they can work at independently.

Sometimes I sit at the big table and work with one while the other is doing independent work and then we switch. It's also where we do most of our math (during nap-time), there are lots of manipulatives. 

The shelf over the big table is a great place to display the crafts and artwork she's done. When we're done with a unit, we'll take pictures of them and throw them away to make room for more crafts.

Our first day of school, we took pictures of some of the books we'll be using this year.

We've also made a nature backpack that we take with us on nature walks. Inside are: magnifying glasses, binoculars, flashlight, field guides for identifying wildflowers, trees, birds and mammals, little plastic baggies for collecting things, a nature journal for each child to draw and write about what they've seen and a colored pencil bag.

We've enjoyed pressing wildflowers and leaves in the journals as well. Sometimes we bring our bug traps, too. I think nature walks has been one of my favorite things to do together. I'm amazed at how quickly Abby is able to look through the guides and identify flowers. I have learned a lot that I didn't know before.

The first six weeks have been themed around the desert. We're using WinterPromise "Animals and Their Worlds" curriculum, Right Start Math, and Explode the Code for reading.

 We've acted out a lot of what we've learned about the animals, this has probably been their favorite part. We've turned it into a family night where we got to show Daddy how to play the games. One night we made up an "Amazing Animals" TV show. I was the hostess and I introduced Abby, the animal expert. Then I asked her to speak about a specific animal. She told us everything she knew about snakes. This was a great way for me to see what she was retaining and for her to formulate her thoughts into her own words. Then there was an opportunity for the audience to ask the expert questions. Enoch was the commerical break, we don't really know what he was saying, but he was enjoying having the microphone.

I gave them each a pan of sand and some desert animals and they went to town with creative imaginative play. It was so neat to see the story lines that Abby came up with especially as she learned more about each animal and who the predators were, how they defend themselves and keep cool in the desert.  Enoch is much better at pretending than Abby was at this age because he has her to watch.

We have beautiful pictures of animals to hang on the wall.  Elijah painted magnetic paint to make them easy to hang.  I let them each take turns using the dart gun to shoot the animal that I call out. Sometimes we use a plastic fly swatter and they call out the animal name as they slap it. Enoch especially loves this game.

This was one of the animal games we made up as we learned about spiders. Abby was the spider and Enoch and Ezra were the insects that got caught in her web.

They made Kangaroo rat and armadillo crafts.  Abby was inspired to write and illustrate her own book about a kangaroo rat and a diamondback rattlesnake.  We pretended to be armadillos.  One of us would be the predator, a fox and the other an armadillo.  As the fox began to attack, the armadillo would curl into a ball with protection of its armored back.  The fox would try to flip the armadillo over and if she could, eat the armadillos belly. They love rough housing and this was the perfect opportunity to do so while making what we learned stick in their minds.

Abby and Enoch used oil pastels to draw a chameleon and then used watercolors to paint. We talked a lot about saguaro cactus and how important they are to the desert. Elijah hung a hummingbird feeder on our back covered porch.  It was just the right time because the hummingbirds will be flying south in a few more weeks.  The kids helped make their sugar water and we were able to observe a lot of hummingbirds.  

Elijah hung a line above Abby's bed where we hang works of famous artists.  So far we've enjoyed Van Gogh, Monet and Mary Cassat paintings.  I show them about 30 cards and tell them the names and then let them each select a few for their rooms.  It's an easy way to expose them to great art works without a lot of effort on my part.  They look at them as they're falling asleep.  I wrote the titles on the bottom and Abby can usually read what they say.  We've also played a fun art gallery pretend game where Abby is the art gallery owner.  I come in as a customer and tell her I'd like to buy some art work. She points to each one and tells me the name of the painting and a little about the artist.  I select a painting I want to buy and Enoch is the delivery boy. He takes the picture down and brings it to me and I "pay" him.

We've also been very blessed to be a part of a homeschool group that has 12 little girls mostly kindergarten, a few first graders. Some of these children she knows from church and from Mustard Seed Preschool. We plan to meet twice a month. Our first meeting was at Sodium. The girls had an art class and then one of the moms put together some activities for the girls. Sodium is a great place to meet, there was plenty of room for us to spread out and the little ones to play. Can't wait for our next time together!

Wow, this was a really long post and there's still so much I'm leaving out.  I have used the break this week to prepare for our next 5 weeks based around the Rainforest.  We also read some really great books recommended in the "Five in a Row" book.  Abby has probably enjoyed reading on her own more this week because it was when she wanted to.  I keep some books I know she can read in the car and she reads to Ezra as we drive.  Last night she read a long Disney Cinderella book all by herself, she was so proud of herself.  I'm looking forward to our next 5 weeks and then another week break!


  1. Excellent summary! I am impressed with how many great activities you guys were able to work into the lessons to help the information stick with the children. Dart-guns to identify animals, live nature shows (complete with commercials!), I'm sure the children loved that.

    My wife and I will be homeschooling our son in a couple of years and I look forward to applying some of these fantastic ideas in our own work.

    God bless you guys for training up your children in such a fantastic way!

  2. That is a great post. Keep us all informed as you journey through the rainforest. The rainforest is really colorful and should provide the children a fun and exciting journey.

  3. This may sound a little out of left field, but understand that we have two kids up and out of homeschool, and our third/youngest is a sophomore... there was a day when I realized that, inside the head of my child, I was teaching them there is a physical place where we do learning. I had to be conscious and make sure to teach in every environment and situation, to grasp every teachable moment. This pays off in their lives by helping them continue to learn outside of a classroom or a desk space or a time slot. Some structure is necessary, but usually much less than we initially think. My older ones are established as life-long learners and they are still happy to be involved in those teachable moments. Today, though, I am as likely to be their student as they are to be mine :)

  4. Hey,

    Can you tell me where you got those kid desks? My wife fell in love with them. Beautiful family, take care.


  5. Luis, the desks were given to us for free by a generous neighbor whose twin girls had outgrown them. I do not know where they originally came from, but they just happened to fit perfectly in that space. They came with a decorative molding on the top, after we removed that they slid in just right! Sorry we're not more help as to where to find some.

  6. Andrea, no problem. My wife and I still in the quest for finding the perfect set of desks for our daughters, thank you anyway.

  7. Kathy Koellein8:11 AM I LOVED getting a snapshot of what's going on at your house. I am amazed and inspired, truly! :) So excited for you and your sweet kids! Love what you said about becoming more of who you really are. Jesus is alive in you!

  8. Andrea,

    This was inspiring! We're in our third week of school here at the Berger House and it has gone great, although perhaps not as creative as yours. It's always good to get ideas from other mamas. I'm with you - I was so nervous about homeschooling. Was I going to become rigid and stiff like others I know? Were my kids going to become self-centered Pharisees (like I have observed some homeschoolers). But so far, and we're only three years in, it's been nothing but FUN. I love the label I've seen on a few other blogs "I Relationship Homeschool." That's the best! And it appears your children are loving it too. Congratulations on a great first six weeks!

    Resting in Him - the Perfect Teacher,

    P.S. Some of the books you are reading in the picture are books we are reading this year! Our newest favorites are Milly Molly Mandy and The Lion Bedtime Storyteller Book. (I'm sure the last thing you need right now are more books, but I've got lots of book lists if you need any others.) :)

  9. Thanks, Kathy! I hope to see you at the next W@R, miss you! Karen, you can never have too many good book recommendations! I'll have to check those out, thanks!