Friday, September 4, 2015

FREE PIZZA!! How I'm Utilizing Pizza Hut's Book It! Program This Year

There's still time to sign up for this year's Book It! Program, where your children can get rewarded for their reading with a FREE personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. And YES, homeschoolers can participate as well as classroom students.  I've been using it for years with my children.

The program leaves it up to teachers and homeschooling parents to come up with an individualized reading plan for their students. My youngest doesn't need any incentive to read, but I want to direct her reading somewhat, so I wanted to come up with a good plan for her to earn her pizza that would encourage her to stretch herself a little bit. I also wanted to have some sort of fun visual for her to keep track of her reading and how close she was to getting her free pizza.

We're doing American history this school year, and I happen to have a large number of books in our home library that coordinate really well with our curriculum that aren't in the Sonlight schedule. To encourage her to read these, I came up with this plan.

First of all, I picked one of the free printable reading logs available at the Book It! website. I chose the one for keeping track of the number of pages read. Then I found a blank printable pizza image.  I chose one without "slices" and printed several out onto cardstock.

There were also free printable pizza toppings which I printed out onto regular paper.

Rather than having to spend a crazy amount of time cutting out all those pieces, I used my circle punch, very similar to this one. Made the job a whole lot easier!

For every 100 pages she reads, my daughter gets to glue a topping of her choice on the pizza. I decided that 1000 pages would be a good goal for her to earn her pizza. I told her that if she reads more pages than that in a month, then she can earn a treat someplace else, such as a milkshake from Sonic.

Have you used the Book It! program? How have you individualized it for your children? Have you used other reading incentive programs?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Those AHA moments! The Excitement When One Book is a Bridge to Understanding Another.

We're currently reading Walk the World's Rim in Sonlight's Core D. I'm reading it a little faster than the schedule calls for, because I want to be able to add in additional books throughout the year. I've done this Core three times before and a few books have been added and subtracted since 1998 when I first taught it to my oldest daughter. As many of the books I read to her that are no longer scheduled, I'd like to be able to share with my youngest as well. By reading an extra chapter or two here and there as well as reading over the weekend, I can finish faster and, over the course of the year, provide extra days for these additional books.

In today's reading, Chakoh and Esteban and the "Three Señors" (Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and Andres Dorantes) are trying to establish themselves among the Buffalo People so that they are able to first be able to stay long enough for one of their party to recover physically, but also to be able to secure guides to help them along the next leg of their journey to Mexico City. Estaban creates a scenario where it's believed he's been bitten by a rattle snake so that the "Three Senñors" can use their "magic" to heal him and thus provide them status as powerful Medicine Men and the safety they expect that to provide. What Chakoh quickly realizes was not considered was the pride of the Medicine Man who serves the Buffalo People and the severe danger they are all in should this man's envy cause him to feel his power threatened!

Immediately my thoughts returned to one of my favorite books from Core C, which was among the final stories we read: And the Word Came With Power. Several times I found myself reminding my daughter of things that had happened to author/missionary Joanne Shetler as she sought to bring the gospel message to the Balangao people, who were steeped in fear of evil spirits.  She too faced the jealousy of the Witch Doctor. And just as Ms Shetler had to realize she was facing real power and not simply superstition, so also Cabeza de Baca comes to this realization.

After a night of "cooperation" with the Medicine Man of the Buffalo People, and of observing things that happened to Esteban during that time, Cabeza de Vaca becomes thoughtful:

"This makes me wonder, " he said, "This is exactly the way the Indians that we cured acted."

"My people always behave like this after the Spirit-of-Misfortune breathes on them, said Chakoh. "I have seen it often. So have you."

"Yes, we have. Does it always come and go so suddenly?"

"The Spirit of Misfortune always strikes suddenly, but almost always the medicine man cures my people."

"I see now that we might have saved our payers and vows. We are not the great healers that we thought."

"But you are," said Chakoh. "Our medicine men never cured them as quickly as you."

"And I imagine they never had quite as many patients either. Never mind, Chakoh. I am thinking aloud."    ~ Walk the World's Rim, chapter 5, The Cure

Yet again, I find myself so appreciative of how great books can be used to teach other great books... and how Sonlight has found these and put them together to provide such amazing teaching opportunities...sometimes ones they haven't even predicted!

The power of God is real, as Joanne Shetler knew. But so also Satan has real power, whether through superstition or actual interaction with people, as Cabeza de Vaca was beginning to realize. But as Joanne Shetler came to actually experience "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4

Through stories like this, and the discussions they encourage, I am able to pass on the Power of the Gospel to my daughter in a meaningful way. This is one of the reasons I homeschool, so that I have many opportunities like this. 


In the early grades, I've come to follow a philosophy of believing that exposure is more important than memorizing a bunch of facts. I want to focus more on establishing a familiarity with various areas of knowledge rather than the ability to spit out lots of facts. My thought is that I'm building up a scaffold of information that, given time and experience, my children can build upon. Some areas of knowledge will get built upon more in-depth than others, depending on the interests and needs of each child. My job as their teacher, is to establish that scaffolding.

So last year, part of the scaffolding I wanted to build in my daughter was to introduce some basic geography terms. I used the book Geography From A to Z by Jack Knowlton to accomplish this.

I love this book, because it can be adapted to a wide range of ages. The first time I used it was with my now teenage daughter when she was in the 8th grade. We had a lot of other material to cover, so didn't spend a whole lot of time with it, but I discovered that if we went over 2-3 terms each week, we could stretch the book out over a single school year and it only took a few minutes a day. With my youngest, I decided I wanted to spend a little more time with it, and to my delight found some great FREE resources that we were able to utilize.  I actually ended up creating an entire Pinterest board for the book.

I was delighted to discover this amazing labor-of-love resource from Jennifer over at MamaJenn. She created printable copywork and illustration pages covering EVERY main term found in the book! Best of all, it's a FREE download. I printed the pages out and then used my comb binder to put all the pages together as a workbook (I scanned and printed a color copy of the book cover onto cardstock to use as the cover of the workbook).

Again, 2 or 3 times a week, we spent a few minutes going over a single term from the book. Since my daughter was only in 2nd grade, I decided to not require her to copy the entire definition, but only a key part (for an older student, it would be a good idea to copy the entire thing). I would underline the part I wanted her to copy. For each term, I also sought out either an image or a video to help her get a better understanding and internal image of the land form. Each of these I saved on the Pinterest board. These were added as we covered them and so, due to the limitations of Pinterest at this time, when you look at the board, you'll have to work your way up from the bottom. I am hoping that one of these days, Pinterest will allow for rearranging pins within a board. When that happens, I will fix that board to be more user-friendly.

Julie, over at Butterflies & Barefoot Lasses created some notebooking pages as well. I printed out the photos she includes in her FREE download and had my daughter cut these out and glue them into her workbook. This way she had both her own illustration and an actual photograph of the landform.

Here are a couple more sample pages from what my daughter did last year as a second grader:

Now she has not only a great keepsake, but also a quick and easy reference that she created. In this coming school year, as we study American History, a number of these terms will come up (The Strait of Magellan for example). Because of this project from last year, these terms will have more meaning to her as they come up in her reading. Even if she doesn't remember the meaning specifically, my daughter will know where she can go to review.

Among the other resources you'll find by going to my Pinterest board for this book is a FREE printable Landforms Memory Game from Layers of Learning. Print on cardstock (laminate if you expect to use them with multiple children--I didn't bother since I'll only use it with one) and use for additional review!

You'll find that, for the most part, when I save printable resources on my Pinterest, they are FREE. From my experience, for every printable out there where there is a cost involved, someone else has made something similar that is free. Everyone's priorities are different, and so for some it's easier to go ahead and purchase printables the first time one is found that fits a need. And for classroom teachers, this is often especially the case. But for me, money is tight, and particularly because I'm down to my last child to teach, I have chosen to focus on finding FREE. And so when you explore my Pinterest, you will find just that...lots and lots of FREE printable resources.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Beginning our History Notebook

In the last couple years, on homeschooling boards and through blogs and Pinterest, I've been seeing a lot of buzz about lapbooking and notebooking. I used bits and pieces of ideas I gleaned in the last couple years, but only now and then. Last school year, however, I went a little further and  experimented with a sort of "Notebooking" and "Lapbooking" hybrid.

Inspired initially by a post by Jessica on "Very Mom", I saw an idea for a history notebook, using a composition book. We ran with this and, using a combination of my daughter drawing pictures and writing summaries and gluing in printables I found online, a history notebook was born.

By the end of the school year, we had a great chronicle of what had been studied! But I realized we could do so much more if not constrained by the limited space in a composition book. So as I brainstormed over the summer, I decided to purchase a 3" binder. I found a picture collage of American History images which I saved here, copied it onto Word and added my own title below and slipped it into the notebook.

Then very recently, I saw KarlaCook's idea at her blog Roads To Everywhere, where she does something similar using a notebook. I will likely inlcude some of her ideas too. Haven't decided yet if I will have my daughter put the Sonlight timeline figures in her notebook or in the Sonlight timeline. If she does it in the notebook, then world history events studied later won't be with them, so I'm leaning toward maintaining the timeline.

Another touch I'm adding this year, with the freedom a 3-ring binder gives us, is for my daughter to create "Period Dividers". I saw these free printable ones offered at The Crafty Classroom, but they are for world history, not US history. After doing a little searching and finding nothing similar for our needs, I've decided I'll just have my daughter create her own. Here's what she did today.

Before reading our history and read aloud titles (Pedro's Journal and Walk the World's Rim), we spent a little time talking about how the first peoples arrived here. I showed her this video about the Bering Sea land bridge theory. We talked about other ways that historians are discovering people took thousands of years ago to reach North and South America.

Then I provided her with an activity from this book that I'm now using for the second time through,

I love resources like this that can be used for multiple children! I first purchased this for one of my older children and saved it, so now I am using it again. This book has 3-D interactive maps to color and use that will coordinate with both Cores D and E. In fact, I also used one of them last year for Core C (the one about the Vikings).

Here's the map my daughter did today, and her narration about what we talked about.

One other thing I added in today that I want to share is what I can best describe as a "Poetry Story".  I found this book, The Desert People, at a thrift store several years ago. I found it fitting to add into our Core D studies this year for two reasons. First, I like to have poetry to read every day, and this year's poetry book provided by Sonlight is only read once or twice a week. So I've looked for things to read at other times. Second, while set in more modern times (it was written in the 1960s), it gives a taste of the life of the Hopi living in the desert. Since in Walk the World's Rim we're reading about native peoples in that region of the country, I felt it would be a nice tie-in.

We're spreading this one out over two or three days. As I was reading it aloud, my daughter made a point to say that she found it very interesting. That pleased me and helped me feel I'd made a good choice to include it.

I just realized this week that this beautifully illustrated book was written by the same author as a retired Sonlight book (which I plan to fit in anyway, since I own it from the past 3 times I did this Core),  Secret of the Andes.  Some have found it a difficult and slow moving read, but I remember enjoying it greatly and look forward to reading it again to my youngest. I happened to find this beautifully done video summary of the book that I'll share here in closing for today,.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Day, First Week....Homeschooling through a Move: It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Well, we did it! Dove into our first day of school for 2015-2016!

It's hard for me to fathom that I'm now beginning our 22nd year of homeschooling!  I'm sitting here shaking my head in wonder at all the years that have passed.

I'm glad that I've learned to take things slowly the first week or two. Yes, Sonlight has everything broken up and every day assigned so that the work is spread over 36 weeks, but I've come to see that I don't have to be a slave of that schedule. Life's a bit crazy around here anyway, what with our impending move. We're shoving boxes aside and figuring out that there is this item or that which I suddenly can't find. I could let this make me crazy...

...but we'll just go with the flow, and relax. Because there will be days when we're on a roll and extra chapters will get read, an extra worksheet will get completed. And on days like today when I made the executive decision we'd wait to do math and science another day, what did my daughter choose to do while I took an afternoon nap (I work a late evening shift and so am typically up past midnight)?  She chose on her own to watch both Sonlight's Mathtacular and Discover and Do DVDs!

Until we get moved into our new home later this month, I know it's just going to be a good thing to keep a school routine going, even if not everything gets checked off. We'll get it done eventually...if not all of it, most of it.  This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. We have an entire school year to get it all done. So today we had fun, we read together on the couch, learned some grammar and enjoyed some art and poetry, and called it Day One.

By the way, the sign my daughter is holding is a freebie created by Jamielyn over at her blog, I Heart Naptime.

Now, if you forgot about "first day" pictures, or just couldn't be bothered, here's a fun idea from Mari, Second  (or 5th...or 10th...) day of school pictures!

Monday, August 31, 2015

First Day of School Tomorrow...SURROUNDED by Boxes!

We're still house-hunting...have to be out of our current rental by the end of the month at the latest, mid-month if possible.  Meanwhile, I'm having to be creative in where I place the boxes of things that have been packed, seeing as we still have to be able to live here for a little while longer.

In my husband's study...

 In the living room, above our school bookshelf...

 Even in the kitchen!

But tomorrow is September 1st, and that means it's time to start school with my 3rd grader.  Here's my Sonlight Instructor's Guide. I split it between two notebooks, 18 weeks in each. Scanned and printed a color copy of the IG cover so both notebooks are easily identifiable.

And here's week 1. My daughter's excited. I'm excited. We're about to start a new adventure, as we explore Sonlight's Core D, the first of two years of Introduction to American History.

I cheated a little bit. For her bedtime story, we started out by reading the first pages of Pedro's Journal.

So while our box-filled living spaces aren't anything like the homeschooling spaces featured in this blog post, and while we may have to take a break in a couple weeks, for now we're going to dig in and get started on our new learning adventure! It really doesn't matter if we have a beautiful room. What matters is that we recognize that learning can happen anywhere, any time, no matter what our circumstances.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Favorite Alphabet Books Revisted

I have a warm spot in my heart for alphabet books.  I love seeing how creative authors can be in an effort to introduce children to this building block of words. And yet, they aren't just for young children! The format of introducing a topic using an alphabetical format can be fun for older children too! So many interesting and more advanced topics can be introduced at any age by the simplicity of the A B Cs.

More than four years ago, I gave a list of favorite Alphabet books for young children in this blog post: Sharing Some of My Favorite Alphabet Books. Those titles still are favorites of mine, especially the ones by Jerry Pallota, since the text has two different degrees of challenge for readers.

Today I'll share some of my favorite alphabet books for older children.

Last school year, my youngest daughter discovered these two delights by author  David Schwartz, G is for Googol, and Q is for Quark.

I'm all about whetting children's appetites for math and the sciences, and I think these two books do an excellent job! While certainly not through studies, they give enough information to the reader to help them recognize the terminoloy and recall a small bit of information about them for when they inevitably encounter them later.  I'm a firm believer that it's far better for children to receive a gradual introduction to advanced math and science topics and vocabulary. It's much harder, I think, for students to have their first encounter with these things as high school students. Better to get bits and pieces when they are young so that as they dig deeper into the subjects in later years, there's at least a slight familiarity with the information. 

The Handmade Alphabet  by Laura Rankin beautifully portrays each letter of the alphabet in American Sign Language, along with an object starting with that letter. This gentle introduction to ASL can be a fun book to expose children to this unique language.

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions quite deservedly won the Caldecott Medal for its illustrations. I'm always on the lookout for books which help my children learn about the many wonderful cultures around the world.

Then there's B is For Bluegrass: A Kentucky Alphabet and all the others in the Discover America State By State series. (There's also a Discover the World series!) These are great additions to any state study and provide a great way to learn new things about the state you live in or one you plan to visit.

It seems no matter the topic you're studying, you can likely find a book to introduce it using the simple format of an alphabet book! Do you have some favorite alphabet books in your home?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fostering Creativity

The first day of school at our house isn't until next Tuesday, but that doesn't mean there isn't learning going on around here!

This morning, after breakfast, I discovered my daughter busy at the dining room table.  What was she working on? A Translation.  Huh?

Apparently our cat "wrote" his biography. My daughter has taken up the challenge to translate that biography.  The original manuscript consists of rubber stamped paw prints scattered over a sheet of paper. My 8 year old is spending the day writing the life story of our cat, from our cat's perspective.

Most of the time I've been raising my kids, I've had to work a part time job on top of homeschooling, so I really haven't had the time to get them involved in more than a few select outside activities. I also haven't had time to organize crafts, art projects and such for them. But what I have done is always kept a supply of materials available for them to have the free reign of. I keep a cabinet full of paint, paper, brushes, markers, glue, and other things that I've accumulated. I save a few toilet paper tubes and egg cartons. And my kids have always known that they are free to use whatever is there.

I watch clearance sales at local stores, keep a box to toss those toilet paper tubes in, and watch thrift stores as well for random craft supplies. Rather than buying "craft kits" which cost a lot more and narrow what a child can do, I like to just let my kids explore with the materials and create what they want to.

For my youngest, much of the time that has come to mean writing books. She's been writing books since before she could actually write letters! She would draw pictures and "scribble" a story. Lately, she's been going back to those and writing out the stories she remembers. We have a large box of her saved stories (consisting of multiple pages of computer paper stapled together!). We tend to go through a lot of paper, so that's another thing I watch for sales on!

Funny thing, coloring books tend to last years at my house. Once in a while my children have each had a desire to color in one, but only occasionally. So they seem to take forever to be used up. I've encouraged free drawing. My oldest two, inspired by the book Harold and the Purple Crayon used to play a game together that they called "Harold and His Sister". Of course they each had a purple crayon. They would spread themselves out on the floor with several sheets of paper in front of them and then tell stories together, and draw them as they told the style of the original Harold.

Now, here's a coloring book series my youngest has been enjoying lately. I have a couple of them. I first heard about the Anti-Coloring books years ago in the Sonlight forums. I finally bought some a couple years ago.  Each page has a partial picture that serves as a prompt. The picture is completed by the child before coloring. My youngest has had a lot of fun with them. You can check them out here:

So anyway, while I was amused at the writing she was doing this morning, I wasn't surprised. My husband and I have endeavored to encourage creativity and imagination, and this morning's activity is the fruit of those efforts.

How have you fostered creativity and imagination in your children?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Free Resources for teaching The Story of the Orchestra

Sonlight Blog Party

As a long-time user of Sonlight Curriculum (for all but about 2 years of my more than two decades of homeschooling), I’m joining in the celebration of their 25th Anniversary Celebration by taking part in this month’s Blog Party.

This month, bloggers are asked to share about projects that tie in with books.

I’d like to share with you one of the projects I worked on this summer. I hunted down resources to enhance our use of the book, The Story of the Orchestra, part of Sonlight’s 3rd Grade Elective Package

I’m so glad that Sonlight includes these elective resources…they are wonderful additions to our curriculum and help make it easy to include areas of instruction too often easily overlooked. In just a few minutes a couple days a week with this book, and your child has the opportunity learn things beyond the “Three Rs”.  

The Story of the Orchestra introduces young children to the instruments, the structure, and the composers of classical music.  In the first part of the book, the varying instrument “families” are explored, followed by the second part where a wide variety of composers are introduced. Also included with this book is a CD, featuring 41 segments of music to go along with the readings.

In my quest to find something hands-on to go with this book, I searched Pinterest, blogs, and Google. I created a board on Pinterest with what I found.  I’ll share here some of what you’ll find there.

  • The website Color My Piano has an incredible array of resources, including a free Musical Instruments Workbook (scroll down…it’s the 32nd item on the page) you can print out. It contains coloring pages and blank lines for taking notes for learning about the musical instruments and the musical instrument families.  For the instruments not included in this resource, but included in the book, I was able to hunt down a coloring picture for each, which you can find links to on my Pinterest board.
  •  Another resource on Homeschool Helper is these free Famous Composers and Musicians Notebooking Pages.  All but five of the composers covered in The Story of the Orchestra are included.  I was able to find another resource with free blank composer notebooking pages plus one for Wagner at the blog Practical Pages. On my Pinterest board, you’ll find pins that link to photos of the remaining four that can be printed and glued onto the blank forms.
  • I pinned some great resources from numerous professional orchestra’s websites including The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, and The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. 

There are even more fun resources than I’ve described here that will go so well with this book to make it come even more alive to your child. As I discover more, I'll add them to that board so that no matter how lightly or how in-depth you'd like to use this book, you'll find something you can use on my board. 

Hope you’ve found this helpful! Let me know if you use any of it and how!