Saturday, November 15, 2014

Science With Many Resources

My young scientist can't get enough science. While we only officially have "science class" once weekly, there is science woven into all of her days. Our list of science resources for this year include Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Lego Education kits, Snap Circuits, The Private Eye curriculum, Magic School bus tv episodes and books, and Science in a Nutshell kits. While the Scientist has free access to many of these things and explores with them outside of science class, I have come up with a rough order of when I use what. So here is the full plan for our kindergarten year of science class:

1                                             BFSU A/B- 1: Organizing Things Into Categories
2                                             BFSU A-2: Solids, Liquids, and Gases
3                                             Magic School Bus Makes a Stink
4                                             Science in a Nutshell kit: Liquids 1/2
5                                             Science in a Nutshell kit: Liquids 3/4
6                                             Science in a Nutshell kit: Liquids 5/6
7                                             Science in a Nutshell kit: Liquids 7/8
8                                             Science in a Nutshell kit: Liquids 9/10
9                                             BFSU A-3: Air is a Substance
10                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Gases 1/2
11                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Gases 3/4
12                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Gases 5/6
13                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Gases 7/8
14                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Gases 9/10
15                                         Lego Simple Structures 1
16                                         The Private Eye
17                                         BFSU D-1: Gravity I: The Earth’s Gravity. Horizontal and Vertical
18                                         Magic School Bus Gains Weight
19                                         BFSU C-1: Concepts of Energy I: Making Things Go
20                                         Magic School Bus episode: Getting Energized
21                                         Lego Simple Structures 2
22                                         The Private Eye
23                                         Snap Circuits
24                                         BFSU B-2: Distinguishing Living, Natural Non-Living, and Human-Made Things
25                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Is It Alive? 1/2
26                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Is It Alive? 3/4
27                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Is It Alive? 5/6
28                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Is It Alive? 7/8
29                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Is It Alive? 9/10
30                                         Lego Simple Structures 3
31                                         The Private Eye
32                                         Snap Circuits
33                                         BFSU A-4: Matter I: Its Particulate Nature
34                                         Lego Simple Structures 4
35                                         The Private Eye
36                                         Snap Circuits
37                                         BFSU A-5: Distinguishing Materials
38                                         Lego Simple Structures 5
39                                         The Private Eye
40                                         Snap Circuits
41                                         BFSU C-2: Sound, Vibrations, and Energy
42                                         Magic School Bus in the Haunted House
43                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Sound Vibrations 1/2
44                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Sound Vibrations 3/4
45                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Sound Vibrations 5/6
46                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Sound Vibrations 7/8
47                                         Science in a Nutshell kit: Sound Vibrations 9/10
48                                         Lego Simple Structures 6
49                                         The Private Eye
50                                         Snap Circuits

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kindergarten Curriculum and Resources - Halfway point!

I posted six months ago with what we were intending to use for this kindergarten year. As always with an ever-changing child, there have been modifications. Here is the updated and annotated list of what we are using.

Reading (3x weekly)
Read alouds from a mom-made reading list at her ability level

Math (3x weekly)
RightStart B
Time-Life I Love Math series
MathStart level 2 and 3 books by Stuart J. Murphy
Added Dreambox 
Math games as talked about in this post

Spelling (1x weekly)
All About Spelling 2 and 3, with adaptations for handwriting - she got bored with spelling after book 2, so we have discontinued spelling lessons for now

Science (1x weekly, but she'll request more and do these much more than "planned")
Lego Education Early Simple Machines
The Private Eye
The Happy Scientist videos
Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding
Caterpillar-to-Butterfly kit - this has been rescheduled to next year to line up with BFSU
Child-friendly Microscope
Various Thames and Kosmos sets 
Memberships to local children's museum and the zoo
Added Snap Circuits
Added Science in a Nutshell kits
Added Lego Education Basic Structures
Added Dino 101 course on Coursera (which lined up beautifully with our pre-history)

Spanish (1x weekly) - this subject has been by far the hardest to find a good fit!
Salsa Spanish

Risas y Sonrisas
Song School Spanish

Handwriting (1x weekly)
StartWrite software
Adding New American Cursive

History (1x weekly)
Mom-made Prehistory year (Big Bang to early man)

Art (every other two out of three weeks)
Usborne Big Drawing Book
Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas
Artistic Pursuits preschool level

Music (every other third week)
The Story of the Orchestra

She has just decided that she wants to stop taking violin at the end of this month. She continues to enjoy gymnastics and swim, and has added dance.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding - Kindergarten

I have been slowly using BFSU with my daughter. She is very science-oriented anyway, so we use a lot of science materials in our house. (I may do another post on integrating multiple science resources later.) For those not familiar, BFSU is a very UNscripted science program in which the book is written to the parent/teacher. Each topic includes background information for the parent, suggestions for demonstrations/experiments/activities that exemplify the topic, and suggestions for extra reading. The setup is very exploratory for the child, with a lot of open-ended questions from the parent.

Because it is not open-and-go, the book can be intimidating. But the hardest part for many people is the first step - the flowchart. BFSU is divided into four "threads" - Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science. The threads are meant to be done in tandem, jumping back and forth from topic to topic, with prerequisites listed for each topic. The prereqs might be from the same thread or from other threads. I can't tell you how long I spent with the flowchart, flipping back and forth through the book looking at the prerequisites.

We only do "official" science once a week, and this is far from being the only resource, so we won't make it very far through the K-2 book this year. I'm comfortable with that. My primary goal is to get the first bits of each thread completed so that we'll have covered a chunk of the general prerequisites for first and second grade. Anyway, here are the topics and order that I intend to cover during this Kindergarten year.

A/B-1: Organizing Things Into Categories
A-2: Solids, Liquids, and Gases
A-3: Air is a Substance
D-1: Gravity I: The Earth's Gravity, Horizontal and Vertical
C-1: Concepts of Energy I: Making Things Go
B-2: Distinguishing Living, Natural Non-Living, and Human-Made Things
A-4: Matter I: Its Particulate Nature
A-5: Distinguishing Materials
C-2: Sound, Vibrations, and Energy

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Problem Solving for Young Children

I think a lot about how to develop creative problem solving skills in my daughter. Many things come easily to her and I don't want her to get the idea that it will all come easy to her. Including problem-solving skills in her day encourages her to think a bit deeper, persevere, and try multiple possible solutions. Here are some of the things I use to help with this:

Lego Education Simple Structures. This has 16 simple builds with Duplo and each build has a component of exploration and testing. For example, the project we did this week included building three Duplo towers in different shapes, putting them on a platform, and then tilting the platform until each fell over. Comparing the towers that fell first to the ones that fell last, she then tried to guess why some were more/less stable and build new towers that would fall sooner or later. Through the process, she discovered that height, weight, and the distribution of weight in the towers effected stability. I had started to skip over this kit and go directly to the Early Simple Machines kit, but I'm so happy I backed up and decided to start with this one instead. A child with more Duplo/Lego building experience might be able to skip this first kit, though.

Mighty Mind and Super Mind. These start out very simple, using two semicircles to form a circle. They progress quickly, though, to shapes that need nearly all the pieces in the kit to fill in. The two products are sequential, with Mighty Mind having the first 30 puzzles and Super Mind having the next 30 puzzles. I highly recommend a magnetic set so small hands aren't knocking the pieces out of place.

Kanoodle. Another spatial awareness puzzle, I think of this one as an analog version of Tetris that eventually works up to 3D puzzles. In its early puzzles, however, the guide tells you where to put all but two pieces, so you can start out simple and work your way up.

Rush Hour and Rush Hour Junior. One last spatial awareness puzzle for the list. We only have the Junior version right now because these got difficult for her fast. The concept is simple - vehicles are arranged on a grid and can only move forward or backward in their traffic jam as you try to maneuver one of the vehicles off the board. There is an app version of the game as well, which only costs a few dollars.

No Stress Chess. Chess is THE classic strategy game, and this version breaks things down to make the game very easy to learn. I learned alongside my child with this and now we both know the basic rules. After we get better at planning our own strategies, we will move on and find a good chess strategy book. (Recommendations, anyone?)

Can You Find Me? In general, I have been disappointed with the workbooks from Critical Thinking Company, but this is an exception. Though I still find it easier than the level it is aimed at, it was the one CTC product for younger children that seemed to really require my daughter to think.

Monster Physics. This iDevice app has several challenges in which you need to use virtual materials to build contraptions. Better for my daughter, it has an open space to tinker with the materials to build whatever you would like.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Violin with a young child

The Kid fell in love with the violin shortly before she turned three. We bought her a very inexpensive violin to play with. At the time, our only goal was that she learn how to treat an instrument with respect and maybe learn how to hold the bow. I have no background in music and my husband's music background does not include strings.

When she was 3.5, she asked for real lessons. Even living in a fairly musical town, it turned out to be a bit challenging to find an instructor for a 3 year old. We did find a lovely teacher trained in Suzuki. Next step was to get her a violin that could actually hold a tune. This turned out to be more difficult than expected as well. She is small for her age and still needed a 1/32 size violin, which is an uncommon size.

We're now 10 months into lessons. Progress is incredibly slow, which is to be expected with a 3-4 year old. Attention span is low. When she started the 30 minute lessons, she could only actually focus for maybe the first 10 minutes of class. Now, she can focus for 20-25 minutes of lesson most weeks. Her practice times need to be kept short, with 10-15 minutes usually being her limit. Even with nearly daily practice, that only adds up to 50-60 hours of practice over an entire year.

When we started, my primary goal was for The Kid to learn how to play the violin. Over the last year, I have changed my goal. At this time, my primary goal is for The Kid to continue to love music and to enjoy her violin enough to tolerate practices. Let's face it, practice isn't always fun for older kids. A four year old is unlikely to see how sustained practice will benefit her int he long run. We went through a period of stricter practice times and it all became a fight, and she was ready to stop playing the violin even though I do believe she still liked the instrument. I backed off, we dropped most practice time for a while, and she regained her love of the violin. At this time, we're constantly trying to find the balance - enough practice to make some form of progress and little enough to not become a battle.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Playing with Math

I embrace math as one of my favorite subjects, but I know that it is one that a lot of other parents dread. There are so many great resources for math play in the early years!

RightStart Math - this is our main math curriculum. RightStart teaches using manipulatives and games. The curriculum is scripted, which can make it easier for math-averse parents to feel comfortable. The approach is a blend between Singapore/Asian math methods and Montessori.

Toss Up! - This is a strategy dice game. Each die has red, yellow, and green sides - green rolls are worth points, red sides can make you go bust. The goal is to score 100 points faster than your opponents and the math is primarily in the scoring.

MathStart series by Stuart J. Murphy - These books are divided into three levels. In general, the first level is preschool-kindergarten math, the second level is K-2 math, and the third level is grades 2-4. Short, easy reads, with each book covering one topic.

Fill or Bust - a combination of cards and dice. The cards give you a goal or a potential reward for each turn, the dice are the scoring mechanism - 5s are worth 50 and 1s are worth 100, goal is to reach 10,000 first. I have adjusted the scoring for younger players to divide the typical scoring by 10 - 5s are worth 5 and 1s are worth 10 in this system, and you play to 1000.

Time-Life I Love Math series - each book in this series covers a wide range of math topics and problems.

Can't Stop - requires adding of single digit numbers, and you end up learning a bit of probability as you go along. This is an older game, no longer made; I grabbed the board my mother had from when I was a child.

Math Dice and Math Dice Jr. - you roll a target number and then try to match it using the other dice and any math operator you wish.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Just let her play!"

Anyone who has spent much time on a homeschooling forum has seen people ask about early education. Or perhaps they have asked the question themselves. And inevitably some portion of the responses are "Just let her play!".

But what does this mean? A common translation of play-based early learning is to do no instructional time. Others translate it as no formal instruction or no curriculum use.

I offer another version, and that is that "play" can be defined as "any activity the child enjoys". If a child enjoys learning to read, that can be a form of play - even with formal lessons. If a child enjoys numbers and math, there is no reason not to teach place value and mathematical operations. If a young child is enjoying reading and math, but doesn't want to do them today, don't do them today. This is really a pretty simple concept - and parents of young children should be further trusted with these decisions rather than continually being told only to "let them play".