Category Archives: Homeschooling

My Kids Hate Math

To be perfectly honest…they don’t really hate math. Rather, they hate the repetitive practice of doing math problems on paper.

A picture of Scholastic's Mega-Fun Card-Game Math

A good resource to help reinforce math vocabulary and simple memorization

My kids hate math

I can’t remember disliking math in school. It was pretty easy (except for those proofs in geometry) and I liked how it was complete. There was (seemingly) no open-ended math problems. There was an answer and it was my job to ferret it out and find it. Plus, I was good at memorizing…something I’m sad to say has been greatly diminished by motherhood. Plus, I was good enough that I didn’t have to take any math in college. So, I didn’t. Why is that?

In an attempt to change my children’s attitudes toward math, I’ve been seeking out different math-based activities to help them realize how useful math is in our daily lives. Here are some ways we’ve been playing with math.

1. We played store.
Then, we went to the real store with some money. I gave them each $20 in cash and asked them to buy all of the ingredients for a particular meal. They had their list and my ten-year-old had to add the cost as we went. He had to add up his items (on paper) and be sure that he had  enough money to pay for his groceries. He even finagled some junk food because he had left over money!

A picture of hand-colored paper maps for "sale"

A homemade store is a great way to learn about money.

A picture of money and a calculator.

The kids made their own money and determined what they wanted to “sell” at the store.

2. Before playing store, we played Money Bags. A lot.
I have followed these activities with some paper-based problems (adding and subtracting money with static decimals), but they don’t mind these nearly as much…perhaps because they understand the value of being able to add and subtract with money?

A picture of kids playing the game, Money Bags

A short game that has kids adding money as they “earn” it doing chores.

3. We use legos.
We use them for discussions on area, for counting and creating, and for game markers when playing math games. Yes, they get distracted and start building other things. But, I can usually redirect them. If I can’t, then we put the legos away.

A picture of a sheet of paper with a 1-9 multiplication grid. Also shown are two card - 2, 6

Products and Factors Game from Scholastic’s Mega-Fun Card Games for Math

4. Games, games and more games.
Multiplication Bingo, SUM 20 and ‘Factors and Products’ are paper-based games that we have been using lately. This book has been a wonderful resource and reinforces concepts without resorting to boring paper and pencil work. My kids are in love with this app, and although I don’t think it has a lot of educational value, they think it’s fun to do repetitive math since you get to be a ninja in-between problems.

We also love Zeus on the Loose, Rat-a-Tat-Cat and Addition/Subtraction War.

5. Bedtime Math – Books & App
The parent of one of my students turned me on to these fabulous books. My kids love to listen to these and will beg me to keep reading. Recently, I stumbled across this article and was delighted to see that the FREE Bedtime Math app has been scientifically proven to raise math scores. Woo! I downloaded it that evening to our ipad.

6. Write down their feelings toward math.
Usually, a little reminder about choosing a growth mindset  is enough to get my kids back on track with the right attitude. If that doesn’t work, I recommend letting your child write down their feelings about math on a separate sheet of paper – before doing the math. Are they anxious? worried? hate to struggle or be wrong? Acknowledge their feelings by letting them express them and listen as they describe their feelings about math. After acknowledging these feelings, move on. I don’t argue that they are smart enough or diligent enough to master math. I know they can do those things…and I think they do too. So, I ask them if these feelings help them to learn their math and they say no…and well, that’s that.

A picture of a black line made from electrical tape and a lego EV3 line-following robot

R tested out the robot’s line-following abilities – using the color sensor.

7. Teach them to use Scratch or Lego Mindstorms.
Scratch was meant to be used the way a painter uses paint. Students certainly learn about computer programming by using it, but they can also use it for other projects, such as demonstrating their knowledge of a particular historical event.  As they progress and want to learn how to do more things with Scratch, the more they will encounter various math concepts, such as the xy-grid, random chance or operations. The best part is that students will choose to encounter these complex problems, and all they need is a good facilitator to help make the connection to advanced math concepts. The same could be said for the complexity of the Lego Mindstorms brick (and robots in general). You are introducing very complex terminology (compare, degrees, etc.) before they have technically “learned” about them in math class. And, although they might not grasp the concept completely this way, it will make it much easier to visualize when they do come across it.

8. Be mindful of others who “aren’t good at math.”
We are very social creatures who are heavily influenced by others (even if we try not to be). This is especially true with our attitudes concerning math. Some of us have a lot of anxiety about it and if we pass that onto our children, we can negatively influence them. I think my children might be parroting some friends who struggle with math and in the interest of solidarity, decided that they too don’t like math. Gently remind your children that they use math daily and even if they struggle with it – that’s because their brains are growing. That’s how we learn.

If that’s not tough enough…here’s another study that says that parental attitude toward math can affect children, but only if you help with homework!

9. Spend time doing some math with them.
I know this contradicts the above statement, at least if you are math-phobic, but as a homeschool parent, it might be in my best interest to do some math with them. Notice – I said with them, not for them. I will often try to bow out of doing math with my kids. After all, they need the practice, not me. Besides, I have plenty of other work that I need to be doing. However, I recently read the book Mindstorms, and I realized that they might not see the value in it because they don’t notice when I use math. After all, they see me reading and writing quite often.

It’s something we should consider as teachers…to work on some math…and let our children see us do so. Or, come up with a different way of ‘teaching’ math that doesn’t require abstract learning and memorizing and find a way for them to construct their own knowledge about advanced math concepts. At my house, that might mean I need to invest in some upper-level Montessori materials…

A picture of a K'nex record player with a price tag of $100 and a model of the solar system - sitting on a shelf

This K’nex record player costs $100 because it took a while to make.


Return to SOTW Ancient Times

Since I already had the activity guide and the book, I bought the optional set of CDs, read by our favorite actor, Jim Weiss.

I already had the activity guide and the book, so this year I bought the optional set of CDs, read by our favorite actor, Jim Weiss.

A Return to SOTW Ancient Times

This year — our fifth using SOTW — we returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my youngest son was excited to join us. Typically, I would not do so many activities with my six-year-old, but he seems eager for more work than my oldest was at that age. Perhaps that’s the fate of second born children?

Regardless, we needed to move beyond listening to the story and writing a story map, at least for my ten-year-old. I wanted to start with the big bang theory and capture the knowledge of how long ago the dinosaurs lived. I felt that a timeline would be the best way to introduce this idea. It didn’t hurt that a timeline was strongly suggested for the fourth book on modern times. While we didn’t do it last year, I felt it was time to see these historical events spread out on paper.

A picture of a boy making a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

Our friend A helped us to start our timeline for SOTW Ancient Times.

Deepening Understanding
I wasn’t quite sure how to encourage deeper learning with my ten-year-old – without asking him to do a lot of summary writing. I dislike writing for the sake of writing. When we write, I want it to be relevant and useful. So, I bumbled along with the first few stories and made sure my six-year-old was grasping the concept of history, nomads and the distinctions between countries and continents (he had studied continents last year).

A sample of the map activity for Ch. 15 by C, age 6.

A sample of the map activity for Ch. 13 by C, age 6.

To help with comprehension, I made copies of the map work so the boys could see what location we’re reading about, and together, everyone listens to the chapter as I read it aloud. Often, the globe is present by our side – to help place the location in our brains. After I finish reading the chapter, everyone does the map activity from the activity guide. Occasionally, the map activities are too ‘simple’ and the boys will add the major rivers and mountains for the area we are studying – just because they want to do so.

Afterward, we take a break for a couple of days and when we return to SOTW, I let Jim Weiss re-read the chapter and the older boys make summary maps and my six-year-old draws a picture.

C, age 6, draws a summary picture about the first Olympic Games in Greece.

C, age 6, draws a summary picture about the first Olympic Games in Greece. “They are running a race.”

The activity guide recommends literary suggestions to accompanying the stories, and if I think about it ahead of time, I will put a few on hold at our local library. Sometimes these are picture books and sometimes they are books for independent readers. I think these books are great way to plant the historical idea (or place) in the heads of my children.

But, I wanted my ten-year-old to go just a bit further in his understanding. Having a lively discussion about the chapter is good for that, but I wanted him to notice more of the details. Thankfully, a fellow homeschool mom turned me on to World History Detective from The Critical Thinking Co. This is a great activity for my older son to work through on his own and for us to discuss together, once he is finished. It also gives us a chance to notice various aspects of ancient history and see how they are covered differently between SOTW and History Detective.

He doesn’t do these exercises every week, but I use them to spark conversations about the time period and the written passage. Since my kids do not take standardized tests, this is a good way to work on some test-taking skills. We talk a lot about the best answer – based on the evidence in the passage. I wouldn’t want to do all of my teaching this way, but I also don’t want my kids to be blindsided when they do take a standardized test.

A picture of the book, World History Detective.

A side path into Ancient Greece – paring fiction with history

Although I’ve been wanting to read Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief for some time, it wasn’t until this past December that I finagled it. Since it was for my bookclub, my oldest son wanted to read it with me…which was exactly what I was hoping would happen. I didn’t make him read it, but he took off and finished the series (and Riordan’s next series) WAY before I did. But, in doing so, his understanding of Greek mythology was strengthened. I had bought the D’Aulaires Greek Myths back in August, and he found it and read through it…all because he was curious and wanted to know more. All on his own. I just made sure the resources were available and left where he could find them. I like to think that this is the value of a prepared environment.

A picture of the D'Aulaire's book of Greek Myths

This year, we also introduced the stories of Odysseus. Five years ago, none of us were prepared to sit through an abridged version of the The Odyssey, but this year, I brought book one home after Christmastime and Dad began an evening read-aloud. At the present time, they are awaiting book six from the library and can’t wait to find out what happens when Odysseus’s true identity is revealed. (Spoiler Alert: It’s a bit bloody and I hope Mary Pope Osborne has toned it down a bit. We’ll have to see).

A picture of a handmade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

An up-close picture of our homemade timeline.

We are currently on chapter 26 in SOTW, but there are 42 chapters all together. We may skip a few, or we may read through them, but not make any writing or drawings to reflect our learning. As you can see, we don’t add to the timeline for every chapter – that would make it tedious and not very exciting. Instead, if we have extra time that week (or if I think the event is very significant), I’ll ask if they want to draw a picture for the timeline. Often, the answer is a resounding yes!

A picture of a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

A bigger look at the partial timeline for Ancient Times

My older son loves history and I think that’s what drew me to the Story of the World series. My husband and I are both history buffs and we love hearing about (and remembering) some of the stories from our youth. Our youngest son is also coming to love these historical stories and in turn, we are creating a shared cultural knowledge. We probably would read these stories anyway, due to our love of history, but it seems especially relevant when we consider our place in a global society.

A picture of a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

The start of our timeline. We used books from the library to find out what happened millions of years ago.

This is My Home, This is My School.

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Picture of cover of the book, This is My Home, This is My School

Written by Jonathan Bean, a grown-up homeschooled student!

Ages 3 and up
Bean, Jonathan. This is My Home, This is My School. Farrar, Straus & Giroux: New York, 2015.

We love Bean’s other book, Building Our House, so when I noticed he had another book coming out, I immediately placed it on hold at our local library. Then, I heard that it was about a homeschooling family. Can you guess how excited I was? Most homeschooling books are written by adults for homeschooling parents, the notable exception being the Teen Liberation Handbook, which is intended for teenagers (and has some extreme viewpoints). Honestly, I can’t think of any mainstream children’s book that features a homeschooler. That alone would merit a more favorable review, but Bean needs no extra help. His book can stand on its own. It’s that good.

This is My School

We love this author-illustrator and my kids love that he is a former homeschooler. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler, you will love this sweet story about a family living and learning at home…and in the stream…and out in the world. This is My Home, This is My School offers simple sentences and funny pictures, so it’s perfect for a short attention span. The watercolor illustrations add much to the story and we spent extra time looking over each scene. Homeschooling parents will appreciate the messy house and the overwhelmed teacher-mom jokes, while kids will see the gigantic backyard and wish they had one too.

Picture of treehouse from the book, This is My Home, This is My School

A picture of their “playground” – a fabulous treehouse where the author, presumably, grew up.

The story begins with Jonathan who is describing his home (which we saw built in This is Our House), and then telling the readers that this is also his school. With short descriptions and lots of bright and vivid illustrations, the readers see how Jonathan and his sisters learn at home. Sometimes they sit at the table and do paperwork – just like in traditional school. But, sometimes, they are off in the pond, collecting specimens and learning about science. Sometimes they are reading in bed and that counts for literature class. Occasionally, their teacher is frustrated, angry and worn down – just like in traditional school! But, always, there is learning and love and a strong conviction that this is the right path for Jonathan and his family.

Picture from Jonathan Bean's This is My Home, This is My School.

Picture from Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School.

Just like in This is Our House, at the end of the book there are old family photographs of Jonathan and his sisters. Although I love his picture books (and so do my boys), I think I love these family tidbits the most. The homeschooling parent in me appreciates the obvious love and joy he had growing up as a homesteading homeschooler. It’s just a little affirmation in support of a not-so-uncommon life path. Homeschooling does work and it can be successful and joyful.



PBL – Geography


Student Choice

Most of my favorite “teaching methods” put students’ choices at the forefront of their learning.

I know!!! You must be completely shocked that a Montessori-trained educator would value choice and self-direction! All kidding aside, a lot of research is saying the same thing. It’s easier to learn something if there’s an interest and often, that learning starts with a question. For older students, there’s problem-based learning,  where students collaborate to find a solution to a problem (or answer a question).

At our homeschool co-op meetings, we’ve been doing project-based learning. Our students range in age from five-years-old through twelve. Each of them are going to approach a topic differently. We need to honor that. Last semester, the parents choice physics as the topic of inquiry. Then, we supported our children through various explorations into windmills, bridges and catapults.

This spring, we’re focusing on geography, specifically an in-depth country study.  It’s self-directed because students choose the country they would like to study. They also decide how they want to present the information that they’ve learned. In this way, it somewhat mimics project-based homeschooling. It’s not quite as open-ended as project-based homeschooling, but it can be a good way to stay on track with project-based learning.

As an educator (not just a homeschool parent), I think it’s important to allow students the freedom to decide how long they want to study their country – and require that they present their information to someone else. In this case, my children will present what they’ve learned to their fellow learners at co-op.

Although it is more structured than unschooling, there is a lot of self-direction and choice. Maybe we should invent a new word – Monteschooling? Lots of choice, but with some guided direction (constraints) and adult facilitators around to help continue the learning when they get stuck (or want to give up).

Part of the "city" project - the boys were laying out and creating their own city.

Part of the “city” project – the boys were laying out and creating their own city with clay.

Project-based Learning – Geography

On our first day of “class,” I stood in front of our students and let them know they needed to choose a country to research, and that by next week I wanted two books on their topic. Since almost all of these kids are younger than age twelve, I wanted them to stick with books. Web research is great, but it requires some higher-order thinking to be able to determine a safe, reliable and accurate web site. For now, books are key. The obvious exception is the CIA World FactBook, since it takes the guess work out of determining whether or not it is an authoritative site.

Picture of kids' books on egypt and ancient Egypt.

Most of C’s books are centered around Ancient Egypt…not necessarily present day Egypt.

Then, I started asking questions. I suggested that they might want to pretend they are going to visit their country. “What would you like to go see first? What language would you need to understand? What type of food do they eat in your country?”

None of these are required questions to answer, and there is no standard form on how to give their presentation. Instead, we left it as open as possible, allowing for the fact that some students will go into more depth, while others might just draw a picture and point out one or two facts.

Since we have a large age range of students, each family was free to put more constraints on their children’s projects. One of our parents is requiring her two children (ages 10.5 and 12) to complete a presentation every 3 weeks. I asked my children to choose one of the countries that still exist from our study of ancient times, but didn’t put a time requirement on their learning. If they want to study one country for the next 3 months, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Making clay models of the pyramids in Giza

Looking at a library book to make the pyramids at Giza.

My kiddos decided to study Greece and Egypt, although the six-year-old is pretty fascinated with ancient Egypt, and I’m not sure how much present day Egypt will feature in his final presentation. I don’t care because he is reading all sorts of books and creating items to reflect his learning. For my oldest, I have asked him to include a works cited page in his presentation, but otherwise, he is only limited by his imagination. I think a large part of his project might be devoted to Greek Mythology, since we have recently read Rick Riordan’s fabulous series on the Greek myths.

I try not to put my judgement on their ideas or choices, though I know it happens. I try to offer multiple suggestions and leave resources (books, videos, etc.) around the house for them to discover on their own (if they didn’t find them at the library). Since they don’t know everything that is out there (nor do I), I think it’s a bit unfair to step back and assume they will know where to look. That’s part of their training in teaching themselves – exposing them to resources (the library, the Internet, local businesses and government offices). It’s not completely self-directed, but I do try to (mostly) respect their choices.

Picture of a kid's desk - pencil, paper, and opened book

R has decided to make a book about Greece. I sketched out a storyboard so he could plan out his book.

As such, I was asking my six-year-old how he wanted to show off some of his knowledge about Egypt and threw out a number of suggestions – a drawing of the pyramids, a written poster, clay models of the artifacts he found. He immediately jumped on the idea of making clay models of the pyramids and I made sure to follow through when we were at home that week.

picture of homemade clay pyramids

We have a big slab of clay on hand, so it’s an easy way to extend the learning.

I even managed to make a connection between the pyramid from our Montessori geometric solids and the pyramids he was making. Nothing formal, just an observation about the pyramids and how many sides they have, etc. He made sure to point out the four sides on his pyramids and I quickly agreed. It’s a slight connection, a teaching moment in the midst of an innocent art project. But, it helps to solidify small connections of learning, while reinforcing the  the value of a teacher-facilitator.

We’re continuing with projects. My youngest is feeling that his might be coming to an end, and my oldest is trying to meet a 4-H deadline. This week promises to be a flurry of making, writing and organizing. I can’t wait.


Book Review :: Story of the World

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

We are on our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we're cycling back to ancient times.

We are in our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we’re cycling back to ancient times.

Audience: Ages 6 and up
Reading Level: 4th grade and up due to lots of historical names

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume I: Ancient Times: From the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor. Revised Edition. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA, 2006.

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Activity Book I: Ancient Times. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA , 2006.

Story of the World

This is our fifth year using the Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum. That’s saying a lot for a homeschooling family. We have a lot of choices to choose from and need not stick with a curriculum unless we really like it.

As for my own teaching style, I use music CDs, workbooks, regular books, library videos, dinnertime discussions, general observations and board games to teach my kids about the world (and math, writing, reading, history, etc). I use Montessori materials for reading and math (up to age 7 or so). It’s rare that I use any sort of comprehensive curriculum – except for SOTW and as they get older, Beast Academy and Singapore for math. Although there are a number of activities you could require your children to do with SOTW (including tests), I follow the lead of my children and adapt the curriculum as needed.

Picture of all four books in the Story of the World series.

A glimpse at all four books in the Story of the World curriculum series.

I really like SOTW because it’s a chronologically-based history ‘program.’ The stories are told in order, beginning with the nomads and moving up through modern times. When my oldest was young, we started with the nomads and I didn’t worry about encompassing the big bang theory or placement of the dinosaurs (something we corrected when cycling back to ancient times).

I think the chronological order mimics Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education without requiring too much learning (or buying of resources) on my part. The Cosmic ‘Curriculum’ is presented in the 6-12 classroom, and since I did my training for ages 3-6, I love that SOTW has stories that are easy for me to read and that the guide has pre-printed maps and suggested activities. It’s less prep work for me. I also love that I can adapt it to my needs and feel less pressured to use the “correct” Montessori materials (i.e. prepared timeline).

First Year – Story of the World – Ancient Times – Ages 5 – 7
The first year we started with SOTW, my oldest was five and a half, but he LOVED listening to stories. He didn’t care for reading instruction, written math or having to retell a story. He wanted to listen to the stories and that was it. So, that’s what we did. With a globe nearby, I read the stories and supported them with the occasional picture or non-fiction book (many of which were recommended in the guide). We discovered the “craft” section of the guide and R chose a recommended activity each week. We also skipped some chapters and focused on a few select topics. At the end of the year, he knew a lot about ancient Egypt, ancient China and the Roman Empire. He was also very familiar with the non-fiction section of the library.

Although my oldest doesn't remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do - and it is one of our fondest memories!

Although my oldest doesn’t remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do and it is one of our fondest memories! These were drinks of water so they wouldn’t be parched in the Gobi Desert.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment - complete with stuffing in his back.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment – complete with stuffing in his back.

Second Year – Story of the World – Medieval Times – Ages 6 – 8
There are typically 42 chapters in each book, so we really didn’t get to the end of the first book until the end of the summer, which meant that we started the second book around October. These stories seemed much more interesting – knights and castles and barbarians (which he didn’t really like because they were scary). Since he was technically a first grader, we didn’t do any summaries or written work. I read the stories and he chose an activity from the guide. Since his younger brother was much more active that year, we didn’t even do a lot of literature reinforcements, just a chapter and an activity.

Picture of a homemade marshmallow and cereal castle

This castle is made from puffed cereal and melted marshmallows. Four years later, my children STILL remember it fondly.

In addition to choosing an activity or craft from each week, we made sure to visit the local Medieval Faire that year. Also, for R’s 7th birthday, he and his dad attended the show at Medieval Times in Orlando. While it’s not quite authentic, it’s close enough for a 7-year-old. All of these events helped to make the connections in his brain grow stronger and hopefully solidified some knowledge of medieval times.

Third Year – Story of the World – Early Modern Times – Ages 7 – 9
This was the year R attended a charter school, at least until Christmas break when we pulled him out to continue homeschooling. It was a change we all needed and has served us well in the ensuing years. Regardless, he said he wanted to keep reading the stories when he went to school, so once a week we read about history from the 1500s to the 1850s. His second grade teacher required a written summary each week, so he often chose to summarize the chapter that we read (upon my suggestion).

This was one of the hardest things my struggling writer had to do, but he made his way through it. Often, he would dictate his summary to me and then copy it in his own hand. His thoughts were much more advanced than his limited spelling and writing skills, and this was a good way to bridge that gap. It also gave him good practice with learning how to summarize (sort of). His assignments came with no “summarizing” instructions, but we talked about what was most important in the story and he took it from there.

After he returned to homeschooling, I taught him how to do summary maps using this book as a general guide. It provided the concepts of main and supporting ideas and gave my visual-spatial learner a way to organize his thoughts and write a summary – without having to write an entire paragraph.

Fourth Year – Story of the World – Modern Times – Ages 8 – 10
For the fourth year of history, I continued to require that he make story maps for one of the stories in each chapter, though we did try to begin outlining, as Bauer recommends. He just wasn’t ready, especially since he didn’t particularly care for the summary maps either. I did read many of these aloud to him, but as his 4.5-year-old brother was becoming interested in the stories (and these are pretty violent retellings), I had him read many of the chapters to himself. He was an accomplished reader at that point and had already been reading lots of kids’ books on WWII, civil rights and current events.

Looking back on these past four years, I realized that I used this curriculum to create a love of history (and hopefully pattern recognition), to establish the concept of geography and a sense of being part of a bigger whole, and to gently introduce writing and note-taking skills (with transferable results).  I have been very happy with the ability to adapt the SOTW curriculum. I have been able to add or remove activities and stay on certain topics longer, if I choose to do so, and if my children show an interest.

It’s important to note that the author does place a Christian-slant on history by including chapters on Abraham and God, and the birth of Jesus, but she also introduces many other major religions and includes their origin stories, specifically Islam and Hinduism. If you are not Christian, you could skip such chapters as there is not a Christian theme throughout the rest of the chapters.

This year, we have returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my six-year-old has joined us in our ‘Story of the World’ activities. I will be detailing our return to this time period in a follow-up post. Since it is my ten-year-old’s second time through this curriculum, we have increased the activities and added elements that deepen our learning and understanding.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road - complete with chocolate chip "snacks" that you could buy at a local store.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road – complete with chocolate chip “snacks” that you could buy at a local store. I can’t wait to re-enact the journey of the Silk Road.




Book Report :: A Visual-Spatial Experience

My children are my greatest teachers.

I could go on (and on and on) about how much I have grown mentally, spiritually, and physically just by being their mother. But, I have also grown as a teacher because I am able to observe them closely and watch how they learn. Because it’s different than the way I learn.

He prefers a cluttered desk - whereas I can't stand it!

He prefers a cluttered desk – whereas I can’t stand it!

My older son has given me permission to share his work on this blog and I hope that it will help other visual-spatial learners.

A little background to his relationship with writing – he hated to write as a young boy. Asking him to write anything was tantamount to watching a volcano erupt. Lots of rumbling and growling before a full-blown explosion occurred out of sheer frustration. He was frustrated that it didn’t look perfect. He was frustrated that it hurt his hand (he pushed really hard on his pencil). He was frustrated that he didn’t know how to spell anything and that would block his thoughts.

So, this was one thing I let go. I didn’t push it and I hoped that by the time he hit middle school many of these issues would be resolved. Plus, we’ve always written thank you notes and homemade birthday cards, so it wasn’t as if I never asked him to write anything. But in the last year, something clicked for him.

He discovered the value of writing fluently and his resistance has lessened. Maybe the muscles in his hand are further developed, or perhaps he isn’t struggling with spelling as much (to which I attribute his extraordinary love of reading). I’m not sure why the time is right, but it is. He has unconsciously decided to communicate more in the written form.

His first draft - which he went back through with a red marker and marked his needed corrections.

His first draft – which he went back through and marked potential corrections.

In fact, the idea of a book report was his idea – spurred on by some outside events. Since 2003, I have been part of a book club of friends. Each month, we rotate houses to host the group. This month was my turn to host – and to choose the book. I chose The Lightening Thief . My kids and I have been studying ancient history in our Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum and we’re taking a deeper look at the Greek myths in the coming weeks . Plus, a juvenile book is always a good choice for our busy, mom-filled book club.

Well, my son was ecstatic. He read the book before I did and he mentioned that he wanted to give a report at the book club. I told him he could write a book report, to which he responded, “Huh? What’s a book report?” So, I proceeded to tell him and he accepted the challenge.

Visual-Spatial book report. First step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color - yellow was for the setting and time; blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Visual-Spatial book report. The first step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color – yellow was for the setting and time; whereas blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

The project was a bit overwhelming, so I suggested that he make a word map of what happened in the story. He’s very used to this concept since this how we talk about each chapter of SOTW. He found this to be fun and relatively easy. I prompted him when he got stuck.

When it came to writing the actual report, you could see the terror come into his eyes, so I found a way to break down the map: colors. We went online and found this easy “how to write a book report” web site and broke down the report into three main categories. He chose the colors and I circled the setting and character ideas using a yellow marker.

Then, he chose blue and decided what was significant to the beginning of the story. Next, came green for the middle part and finally, a red marker for the end of the story. Some of the ideas didn’t quite fit into one category so they got two colors.

Some simple writing reminders - capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

Some simple writing reminders – capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

After a bit of grumbling, he got down to writing and came to show me his work. He was so proud of himself (and I was too), so I praised his hard work. Then, he went over it (on his own) and followed the above editing rules. That way, I wasn’t marking up his work – he was. And, for him that makes all the difference. He went over his draft and capitalized the start of every sentence, proper noun and circled his suspected misspellings. Then, we fixed it together.


I wrote down the correct spelling for the words he didn’t know.

Over the course of three days, he made a story map, wrote a first draft, edited his work and rewrote the final version of his book report. Last month, I introduced the concept of a first draft when he wrote a thank you note to a city official (as part of his city project). I’ve also set the expectation that your first draft is for creative ideas, and then you go back and fix the grammar, spelling and sentence structure. My favorite explanation for this process can be found here.

But, the best part of this whole project? He instigated it. Would he be as proud if I had demanded it? Probably not. Of course, he’s at this point because we have incorporated tiny real-world writings into our weekly routine. He’s also a voracious reader who doesn’t equate reading with writing. And, we all know that in order to be a great writer, you have to be a prolific reader.

Book report on The Lightning Thief

Final book report on The Lightning Thief


Project-Based Learning :: Water Cycle

In an ongoing effort to document our project-based learning, I wanted to talk about how my family first got started with self-directed projects.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

When I first read the book, Project-Based Homeschooling, my oldest son was kindergarten-age and I just couldn’t see how he would be able to learn to read, write or do math solely with a project-based curriculum. At that point, he was a struggling reader and while we had always read books that he had chosen, he was showing no inclination to replicate anything based on this research. Therefore, I dismissed it and went on with our “Montessori at home” curriculum. And, thank goodness for that because my eldest child turned out to be a visual-spatial learner and without a Montessori way of learning, he would have struggled even more so. Today, at almost ten-years-old, he is a fabulous reader, but more importantly, he loves to read. But, I digress.

After we pulled him back out of public school (nice place, but way too much homework for 2nd grade), I abandoned all formal learning for the Spring and told him we would just work on projects. His choice of topic, his choice of final project. My strong-willed child loved the idea.

He initially chose to learn more about how we get our water from the faucet. He was quite fascinated by this Magic School Bus book. Since I was being as open-ended as possible, I tried not to direct him in any way. But, as we both learned, my newly-minted eight-year-old needed direction.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

So, after an initial library search where he got to choose the books, I asked a few questions. I asked if there was anything in particular that he wanted to know about our city’s water. He did. He wanted to know how the water got into our house. So, we talked about where we could find that information. Since it wasn’t available online, we had to figure out who to speak with at our city.

Thankfully, we live in nice-sized rural city and the office staff are quite friendly. We went a few times to visit city hall and spoke with the workers to find out more information. He did a lot of the speaking, but I made sure to follow up on his ideas. I made the calls and the appointments and prompted him with the next step.

Eventually, he expanded his city water project to include the water cycle and concluded with a visit to our local wastewater treatment plant. All because he was curious. My child, who hated to write, was writing and taking notes.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

That’s not to say that his final project – a poster – was completely self-chosen or that he would wake up every morning begging to get started. Nor does it mean that presently my kids only learn with projects – they don’t. I assign some work too. However, as we completed the project together, I learned that for a young child (under age 13?) they are going to need a lot more help with a formal project, which was not so clear in the book. While I made sure to follow his lead, I also did some “behind the scenes” research and ensured that a book on water would be one of the selected bedtime reading books. Or, we made a point to drive by the water tower on our way home. I needed to show him how to find out information. I had to be the example, but in a back-door sort of way so as to not co-opt his project. It wasn’t always easy.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay by the road and sketch. One of my many learning mistakes as my child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay on the grass and sketch. It was one of my many learning mistakes. My child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

I did offer lots of examples for final projects – a drawing, a sculpture, a book, a poster. Since this was our first project, I needed him to understand that he was working toward a goal of creating something. He really wanted to do a poster and I made sure to follow his progress and encourage him when it became too overwhelming – or boring.

I also made sure that he finished it. There’s a lot of debate about whether a self-chosen project should be abandoned by the child, but I think that if you get halfway into a project, you need to help them to complete it – at least in some “final” way. The end product can change, but there needs to be some way to show what they’ve learned. I see that as my job as a teacher-facilitator. Nudge them – not too hard – and help them to stay on track. Quite frankly, I have a number of half-finished projects that I would love to have someone help me finish.


Ironically, I have no picture of his completed poster.