Friday, September 30, 2011

Spider Unit - Spider Facts Flip Book

Two of the mainstays I stuck with while teaching public school were:  1) If you can, no matter the subject, share a book, and, 2) If you can, no matter the subject, have students demonstrate their knowledge by making a book.  This way, no matter if you are in science, social studies or math, you are integrating both reading and language arts.  One of my favorite ways for students to publish their knowledge (especially in nonfiction areas of study), was a flip book.  Flip books can be as simple or complex as you need them to be. They can be used for sequential information (life cycles, how to's, relating the scientific process), and for lists of facts, as we did here.

Lesson:  Spider Facts Flip Book

Objective:  Child will be able to identify the number of body parts, legs and eyes a spider typically has.

Materials:  2 sheets of construction paper.  1 sheet lined writing paper.  Pencil  and crayons.  Scissors.  Stapler.


*Note:  At this point, I had already spent a while reading several nonfiction books about spiders with Sophie.  We looked at different pictures of spiders, and identified the 2 body parts, 8 legs and 8 eyes over and over again, until she was secure in this knowledge.  Then, the next day, we reviewed the books and information, then proceeded to create the flip book.  We kept one of the books open while we completed the activity, to reference when we needed to.

1.  First, make the flip book.  Offset one piece of construction paper about 2 inches from the other.  Fold both pieces, creating four flaps (see picture below), and staple twice along the top to keep the papers together.

2.  Set the flip book aside.  On a piece of writing paper, have child write the facts about spiders she learned from the books.  In this case, we talked about spiders having two body parts.  Then I wrote 'Two body parts' on a separate sheet of paper, and she copied onto her own paper.  I wanted her to practice her handwriting, which is why I didn't just write it for her.

3.  Child cuts out each fact she wrote on the paper.  I drew a dotted line so she would know where to cut.

4.  Child glues one fact on each flap of the construction paper flip book.

5.  Child illustrates each page.  Be sure you point out that in books, the pictures always match the words.

6.  The finished product!  Don't forget to write your title on the top flap.

Monday, September 26, 2011

KWL Chart - Spiders

We finished the map unit before going on vacation, so I've been looking for inspiration about what to do next for Sophie's school.  She had a conversation with a little friend a week ago about tarantulas, and ever since then, has been fascinated with them.  So, I thought, since we did insects last year, I could piggy back on her interest in tarantulas and do a little unit on spiders.  Which is kind of funny, because my friend Stephanie is doing spiders with her daughter right now, too.  What's up with little princesses who are fascinated with bugs??!

A great way to start any unit is by using a KWL chart.  The 'K' stands for 'What I want to Know', the 'W' stands for 'What I Want to know', and the 'L' stands for 'What I Learned'.  This simple activity is great for accessing prior knowledge, and establishing a base upon which to build new information and concepts.  It also gets the child to start asking questions about the topic, and gets those brain juices flowing!  I put a little twist on the KWL chart by turning it into a flip book, because I thought it would be more fun for Sophie than just a basic, 3-column chart.

Lesson:  KWL Chart - Spiders

Objective:  Child will list what she already knows about spiders, and will formulate some questions about them.

Materials:  2 pieces of construction paper.  1 piece of white printer paper.  Glue.  Writing utensil.   Scissors.


1.  Instruct child to glue the white paper to one of the pieces of construction paper.  Set aside.

2.  Draw two lines down the other piece of construction paper, leaving off about 1 inch from the end, thus dividing the paper into three columns.  Instruct child to cut on the lines.  Make sure she doesn't cut through, but stops about an inch from the end.

3.  Have child glue the uncut strip over the white paper, then fold up the three flaps.  Draw lines on the white paper, delineating three columns.

4.  Fold the flaps back down, and write, 'SPIDERS' along the uppermost, glued strip of construction paper.  Write, "What I know" on the first flap, "What I want to know" on the second flap, and "What I learned" on the third flap.

5.  Now comes the fun part!  Lift up the 'What I know' flap.  Ask child what she already knows about spiders.  Write down what she says in this column even if you know it's wrong.  This is about her accessing her own prior knowledge.  As she begins to learn about spiders, you will have the opportunity to correct her misconceptions.  If she is having trouble coming up with things she knows, ask leading questions:  "Do you know any kinds of spiders?"  "Do you know where spiders live?"   Older children can fill out this space on their own, instead of you writing it for them.

6.  Now lift up the 'What I want to know' flap.  Ask child what she wonders about spiders.  What does she want to know about them?  What are some things she is interested in learning about spiders?  Your child may have more trouble with this one, but it's a great way to get her to start thinking about the topic.  Leading questions are also helpful here:  "Do you know what spiders eat?  How would you say that using a question?"  Point out that everything in this column has a question mark at the end, because they are all questions.

7.  Go over your chart one more time, reading each column to your child.  Then put it away, to be pulled out at the end of the unit when you will fill out the last column.  As the teacher, keep in mind the questions your child asked, so that you can be sure to address them as you study together.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Favorite Playdough Recipe ... Ever!

When I got married, I had a shower where everyone brought a favorite recipe to share with us.  I filled my shiny new recipe book with soup recipes, roast recipes, sumptuous desert and pastry recipes.  And, a playdough recipe. At the time, I thought, Why the heck would somebody give me a PLAYDOUGH recipe?!!!  Aaaand, then I had kids.  And I understood.  Thank you, Mickey Holtzman, for having the foresight to give me a recipe I wouldn't appreciate until years later!

Mickey's Best Playdough 

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
2 Tbs cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 Tbs oil

1.  Mix all ingredients together in a pot.

2.  Cook over low heat.

3.  When the mixture is smooth, add a few drops of food coloring.

4.  Continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it comes together.

Almost there.

That's the ticket!

5.  Dump out and allow to cool for a few minutes, then kneed until smooth.  

6.  Let the playing begin!

Monday, September 12, 2011


Two of my siblings have learning disabilities.  So does my uncle.  My siblings graduated with honors from college, my uncle barely graduated high school.  I'm pretty sure my siblings enjoyed the success they experienced because they were carefully home schooled by my mom, whereas my uncle got lost in big public school classrooms.  One of the best things for a child with dyslexia or a learning disability is one-on-one instruction.

There are many misconceptions about dyslexia and learning disabilities out there, many of which I came across while teaching.  Believe me, it's a hard thing to suggest to a parent that his/her child may have a learning disability.  No parent wants his or her child to struggle.  However.  Being diagnosed is the best thing for a child who has a learning disability because believe me, the child already knows something isn't right.  Usually it's that they think they're stupid.  

One of my siblings thought this way.  When he was finally tested (in junior high!), it came as such a relief to him.  He had always thought he was dumb (and often joked about it), but in reality, he was just trying to hike up the same hill as the rest of us, only he was carrying 50 lbs in his backpack as compared to everyone else's 10 lbs.  No wonder he had difficulty keeping up!  

For the sake of this post, I'm focusing on dyslexia, not the general umbrella of 'learning disability', which is pretty broad.  

What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning disability in which an individual's brain has difficulty processing language.  Translating language into thought (listening and reading), or thought into language (speaking and writing) is very difficult for them.   Identifying the sounds in a word is difficult for a dyslexic, as well as interpreting words, letters or symbols.  It is important to note that one of the requirements for being diagnosed with dyslexia is that a child has an IQ that is average to above average.  Dyslexia is in a completely different category from mental retardation.

Some statistics:
80% of individuals diagnosed with a learning disability have dyslexia.  This means it's the most common LD.
Dyslexia affects more boys than girls.

What are some indicators my child might be dyslexic?
This helpful list is taken from the University of Michigan's site:

  • Doesn't know how to hold a book
  • Can't tell the difference between letters and squiggles
  • Can't recognize own name
  • Only says a small number of words
  • Doesn’t like rhyming games and can’t fill in the rhyming word in familiar nursery rhymes
  • Can't tell the difference between the sounds that make up a word (phonics)
  • Slow to name familiar objects and colors
  • Can’t remember the names and sounds of the letters
  • By the end of kindergarten, can’t write most of the consonant sounds in a word (it’s normal for vowels to be missing until later)
1st and 2nd grades:
  • Has trouble pronouncing new words and remembering them
  • Has trouble blending sounds together to say words
  • Says reading is easier for their classmates
  • Falls way behind their classmates
  • Can't figure out unknown words
  • Avoids reading
  • Resists reading aloud
2nd and 3rd grades:
  • Starts to withdraw
  • Has some troubling behavior
  • Seems to guess at unknown words
  • Does not get meaning from reading
I suspect my child may have a learning disability.  Now what?
Don't hesitate!  It is better to have your child tested so that you can better understand him, and give him the tools he needs to succeed.  For example, if he is laboring under a learning disability, many parents would say, "He just can't sit still.  He needs to work harder.  He needs drill practice."  They are in effect treating a headache with Pepto-Bismol, instead of giving the proper treatment that will mediate the child's problem.  

But I'm homeschooling, and private diagnosticians are expensive!
Under federal law, a public school is REQUIRED to test for disabilities any child who lives within the district.  This means that whether your child is in public school, private school, or home school, the public school has to administer diagnostic testing if you the parent request it.  After all, your taxes go towards paying for this service!  For lots of helpful information on how to go about the referral process, including some do's and don'ts, read this article.  

Remember, your child's best advocate is YOU.  Good luck!

*** Edited to Add:  As seen in the comments section below, the fabulous Ami (read her guest post here!) had this to say:

I'd add that, while districts may be required to test, they are not reqiured to provide services to home schoolers - BUT, many times therapy (speech, PT, etc.) is covered under insurance, including Medicaid. In fact, if your kids are in public school and you have medicaid, the district is probably charging them

Thanks for the info, Ami!

Friday, September 9, 2011

How I Do It - Althea

One of the many things I love about homeschooling, is the fact that we can all do it differently, tailoring our efforts to the individual needs of our own children and household.  Today you get to meet an amazing friend of mine, the mother of four (beautiful!) children - Lilly (7), Judah (6), Samuel (3), Juliana (6mo).  Here is a woman who unfailingly stands by her convictions, with grace and meekness of heart.  This is how Althea Does It.

Me:  Why did you make the choice to home school?

Althea:  My first year of college when I was deciding on a major, I considered the things I liked at the time; Biology, dance and a few other things.  Then I felt a calling on my life to teach.  I knew I was passionate about children and teaching them I also couldn't wait to be a mom.  That year I decided to home school because I could do what I had a passion for mothering and teaching.
Me:  What is your typical daily schedule?
Althea:  I don't really say I have a daily schedule, I like to say more a routine because for the first few years of homeschooling I tried to have a set schedule then fail at keeping one, try again and fail, try again and fail again.  I am also not a morning person as much as I have tried to force myself to be one, so I decided to give myself some grace in this point.  I have a routine, so that the kids know what is coming next and I don't have questions all day.
  • Kids wake up and do their morning chores.
  • Eat breakfast (sometimes Lilly will help her brothers get cereal, if I need more “grace” that day)
  • I shoot to start school at 8:15-8:30.  Lilly and Judah start their video school and I feed myself and Juliana, this is my charge up time.  Samuel usually wants to do his “school”  which is either sit with his brother for a few minutes or I have a few books for him to work on, a dry erase book with letters, a sticker book or a coloring book.  He can also do some cutting practice if he wants. 
  • The rest of the morning the older kids continue their videos, taking a break between the first 2 videos for about 15 minutes.
  • About 11:30 they are usually done and have free time while I prepare lunch.
  • About 12:00  Lunch
  •  After lunch I have quiet reading time with Samuel and Juliana while Lilly and Judah clean up lunch and do any afternoon chores, they have free time until I am done with my littles.
  • About 1:00.  This is my time to focus on the older children.  Lilly and Judah finish their videos, I grade papers and prepare for the next school day any materials they may need. We go over tests together and see and work on improvements.  I have one on one time with Judah to work on his reading and math.  On some days we do an art project.
  • Finish about 3:00.

Me:  How do you organize your space?
Althea:  I do have a school room, I totally love it!  When we worked at the kitchen table I found that we were having to clean up and re-set whatever we were working on at the time for lunch or dinner. It also made for more clutter all over the house because things would migrate themselves all over.  With the school room I keep the mess contained, its easy to drop and pick up a project and I can always close the door to the mess!
There are a ton of organization tools out there from work boxes to file folders.  I tend to keep things as simple as possible.  We have a system of  a basket for their books and workbooks, a pencil case and a folder.  Their folder has on one side their work for the day and on the other their done work to be graded. 

I have to give a shout out to  They have every chart, graph, and list you need for home school administration and household organization.  I use it constantly!
Lilly, my third grader, is very easy to homeschool.  She can pretty much school anywhere in the house, although I would rather her in her own school space I have made for her in her room, again keep down that clutter!  

Judah, who has a brilliant imagination, is very fun to be around but can be difficult to keep on track.  He needs consistency.  I'm talkin he needs the same chair in the same place and school to be done at the same time everyday.  I found this out the hard way his kindergarten year.  He actually thought he was going to some sort of garden, got to love him.  I was pregnant at the time,  homeschooling a second grader, and had a toddler.  We were all over the place, doing a few things here and there and skipping many days resulting in complete amnesia of everything we had taught and many melt downs.  I finally figured out his trick:  Consistency.

Me:  What has been the biggest benefit that you've seen so far to homeschooling? The biggest drawback?
Althea:  The benefits of homeschooing have really been surprising to me.  When I first started it was all about what curriculum you were using and phonics or whole word, math u see or memorization.  It sent me in circles.  I found that in time, for me, homeschooling is not really about the academics, although there is plenty of that.  It's really about the home - building relationships, shaping hearts, magnifying strengths and working on weaknesses.  The curriculum is just a tool to bring out all of this.  
The other revelation is how homeschooling refines my character.  I am with these guys 24/7.  They are a reflection of me, good or bad, sane or insane.  If there is a character issue in one of them it is usually because they are magnifying me! Ouch!  I'm always having to search my heart, like all the time!
The biggest drawback and benefit is that these kids are with me ALL the time.  Grocery shopping, doctor appointments, out to eat whatever I always have a line of kids behind me.  I even labored at the hospital with my three oldest for four hours.  Not exactly my plan, but it worked out fine.  Its hard to be “on” all the time.  Some days it's just fine to take your time around Wal-Mart pointing at all the colors and looking at the toys, but sometimes you just want to get your spaghetti sauce and get out of there, and it's never that easy.  I try to keep mindful that things just take more time and I should always plan ahead and expect hold ups.  On the flip side I get help bringing in groceries, doing dishes, dressing the baby and toddler.  We are a team.  We work together to make the home!
The best advise I ever got was when I was overwhelmed with making sure my kids were getting everything they needed academically, I was comparing homeschool to the education they would be getting at a traditional school, you know, 5 subjects as well as music, PE and library.  A good friend told me that homeschooling is not about bringing the school to your home.  It's about the home, and you do school as part of the home.  As homeschoolers we tend to be over achievers and can be hard on ourselves.  I try to live by grace and enjoy my kids!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reading a Road Map

We're fixing to head out on a multi-state road trip next week, so Sophie and I pulled out the road maps we are going to be using, to plan our route.

Lesson:  Reading a Road Map

Objective:  Student will identify map symbols on a road map.

Materials:  Laminated road maps.  Dry erase marker.


  1. Observe the road maps with the child.  Identify which state each represents.  Identify roads, cities, mountains, airports, camping areas and rest stops.  
  2. Find your city on the map and draw a box around it with the dry erase marker.  
  3. Pick a destination city for a real or imaginary trip, and draw a box around it. 
  4. Together with the child, decide which roads to take to get to the destination city.  Pick out some places to stop the car for bathroom breaks, lunch, or to play.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reading the 'K' Sound

This lesson should be done after 'c', 'k' and 'ck' have already been introduced to the child.  You can modify it for any group of phonemes that all make the same sound.  For example, 'o', 'oe', 'ow', 'ough'.  In addition to reading, it also promotes the science skill of sorting and classifying.  A great way to encourage critical thinking!

Lesson:  Reading the 'K' Sound

Objective:  Student will read and sort words that have the 'k' sound.

Materials:  Cards that have words with 'k' sound written on them (I got mine with a curriculum I use, but you can easily make your own.  See the list below)  Post-It notes.  Writing utensil.

  1. Instruct child that today she will be finding all the different ways to read, 'K' (say the sound, not the letter name).  
  2. Show her the first card, 'cat'.  Instruct her to read it, and then ask, "What makes the 'K' sound in this word?"
  3. When she identifies the letter C, have her write a C on a Post-It note, stick the Post-It note on the table below, and place the word card beneath.
  4. Show her 'back'.  Instruct her to read it, then ask, "What makes the 'K' sound in this word?"
  5. When she identifies the phoneme, 'ck', have her write CK on a Post-It note, stick the Post-It note next to the one already on the table, and place the word card beneath.
  6. Show her 'kiss'.  Go through the same process as above, making a label for the 'K' and place the card beneath it.  
  7. Now go through the rest of the cards, identifying the 'K' sound in each and sorting them beneath the appropriate Post-It notes.  
  8. Sophie chose to put 'kick' and 'clock' between the labels, because they include multiple 'K' sounds.  Let your child lead on this one.  

List of 'K' words (but I'm sure you can come up with more on your own!):
  • clock
  • lock
  • can
  • cab
  • shack (don't use if you haven't introduced 'sh' yet)
  • kick
  • sock
  • cat
  • duck
  • sick
  • luck
  • tick
  • kit
  • kiss
  • tuck

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Website Review - Red Fish Soup

This is a website that my wonderful mother turned me on to. is a French flash website (but your web browser can translate it for you!) that focuses on creative problem solving and discovery learning.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this site for many reasons:
  1. There is little to no written text, so non-readers can easily navigate on their own
  2. Children can explore music, patterns, and patterns in music (but it's not just about music - there are other games, like a mannequin doll whose limbs you can position any which way)
  3. It has a sweet element of whimsy
  4. There is no 'point' or 'goal' to the games on the site - they are just there to be explored and discovered
  5. Unlike a lot of kids' websites out there, this one manages to be both bright and graphic, AND simple
Here's an example of what I'm talking about:  

In this game, you can click on the little man, who turns the wheel and makes the organ play.  The button on the left makes the organ stop.  The little levers on the bottom change the sound of the instrument.  But how do you know??   You figure it out by running your mouse over the picture and seeing what you can click on.

I've never before discovered a website that so draws you in to EXPLORE.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Learning Lifestyle - Practice Counting

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the lifestyle.  Almost anything can become a learning opportunity.

We took an excursion to the auto parts store, and I spent a lot of time standing around with the kids, waiting for my hubby to pick out exactly what he needed (no complaining here!  The man has the patience of a saint when I insist on trying on every style of jeans that Old Navy has on sale).  Sophie's been getting better at waiting in stores in the past year, but Xander is a different story.  He's a wiggle worm and gets bored very easily.  BUT.  He loves anything that has to do with tools (oftentimes of a morning I hear strains of 'Booooob the Builder, yes I can!!' coming from his room), so I decided to turn what could have ended in me pulling my hair out in frustration, into a learning experience.

Lesson:  Counting Practice

Objective:  Child will practice counting items, building a grasp of one-to-one correspondence (identify that each number corresponds with each single item counted)

Materials:  Any store!

  1. Find a set of like items (a display of wrenches, for example)
  2. Instruct child to point to (or touch), each item as he counts them
  3. Repeat!
The boy was a counting machine!  He didn't want to stop!  He counted for 15 minutes straight!  He counted:

oil jugs


oil pan thingies

floor mats

I think we entertained pretty much everyone else in the store.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Folder Fun

This morning's post is by a friend of mine, Stephanie.  She writes two blogs, and has been a huge encouraging force in my own!  Stephanie was a fellow elementary / special ed major at TTU with me, and we dated and married our husbands at around the same time.  I love (and am humbled by) her amazing mercy heart.  She just made the choice to stay home and home school her kids, stepping down from teaching special ed in a public school.  Her ideas for home educational activities are amazing, and I recommend you check out her blog!  She has written a great guest post about 'folder work'.
- awesome site for pre-made activities

File folder games are great for all abilities and ages. The are customizable to whatever you are learning about and whatever skill level your child or student is at.

So far we have:
-3 addition file folders
-lowercase/uppercase matching game
-matching colors
-sorting hot/cold
-sorting even/odd
-matching sound to letter
-biggest to smallest

In the works:
-put your name in order for the 2 year old
-matching numeral and number work
-matching amount to number
-matching basic words to pictures

The possibilities are endless. It doesn't take much to whip up vocabulary and spelling folders. It would also be easy to label things like the body, insets, spiders, whatever you are working on. Any type of sorting activities (vowels/consonants, 5 senses, animal kingdom) would be simple to put together.

The only downside is that they are a little time consuming to make, but they last for a while.

Some tips:
-if you can afford it, have them laminated. I used contact paper. It takes a little more time.
-velcro dots. Cutting and peeling off the backing of strip velcro is annoying. If you peel a big piece and cut, you end up with stick scissors.
-make one set of numbers and letters. You can use them for multiple games.
-I store my pieces in an envelope taped to the folder

Here is my 2 year old matching his colors:

In this game, I would tell him various prepositions and he would put the dinosaur there. To make it, I glued a flap down using a piece of card stock. Then, I put contact paper over the folder and used an exacto knife to slice through the contact paper.

Here he is ordering smallest to biggest.

And finally sorting hot and cold.

Here is my 5 year old matching upper and lowercase letters.

All done!

Here she is matching letter to the beginning sound. Note the same letters from the previous game.

From 2011-08-29

Here is my 6 year old working on his addition facts. This is a lot more fun than calling out math facts. He was very excited that he didn't have to write all of his answers down.

He told me he was mediating to find the answers. Who knows? You can see his fingers out, counting. I told him we would keep practicing each folder until he could do them quickly.

Here he is sorting even and odd numbers. This was a new concept for him, so we kept out the 100 chart. He caught on quickly.

Folder games take a little work to get started, but you can't beat the variety. It's a great way to get worksheet practice in with out having an actual worksheet.