When your headed to the ocean for a week but don’t want to stop school you got to find away to make it fun! Since we’ve already done ocean week time and time again I decided to base our school week in Ocean City, MD around pirates. In addition to some time playing “on the high seas” they’ve got great kid friendly restaurants including one (Fish Tales) with pirate ship playground. The nearby Jolly Roger Amusement Park puts on a weekly theater show centered around some naughty treasure stealing pirates and if you travel home through the DC area like we did there are several riverboat tour companies that offer a family pirate cruise around the city.
While the vacation stuff was a blast we started our unit a few days before leaving home (to ramp up excitement) and took a few hotel room breaks due to passing storms to complete the bulk of our “schoolwork” ….though it seldom feels like work for us 😉. I purchased a cardboard create your own lifesize ship from Michael’s on clearance for $12 back around Christmas (highly recommend shopping ahead to take advantage of the deals)….and found it surprisingly easy to assemble. Hooray!! Our other hit purchase this week was a board game from Gotrovo called Treasure Hunt. You lay a trail of simple picture, word, or riddle cards matching objects for kids to follow. There’s a real treasure map, gold coins, and a box for a hidden ending surprise. We’ve done treasure hunts many times before but I appreciated not having to come up with our own clues and all the pirate themed contents made it extra fun!
Who doesn’t enjoy counting their gold after a good treasure hunt? We got some unusual excitement over counting this week by reusing our game coins. A pirate has to tell her story so I printed a good sight word story with picture helpers from Homeschool Creations. We did a few other printables and made a paper pirate hat. I’m sure I could have found more to go with this theme but since I don’t really care if T learns the history of pirates lol I kept it to an easy mini-lesson for summer and enjoyed the extra play time in the sand!
Due to our extra cold Pennsylvania winter, I had to postpone bird week until nearly summer. The birds took that long to migrate back to us, not that I blame them….I’d have stayed in the nice warm southern states a little longer too if I could! Couldn’t skip the theme altogether though, as this is still one of Taegan’s personal favorites. It gets us outside enjoying nature in such an interactive way that not too many other themes allow. We can easily find and categorize bird types, calls, activities (such as in a nest, on a branch, flying, finding food), etc. There are endless options for feeding birds: mix up a hummingbird nectar, make a birdseed feeder, take peas to the ducks. With a little searching we’ve found a variety of bird calls and enjoy getting up early to “sing them songs” and count the replies we receive. Taegan has a new found love for tree climbing so we set out seeking nests (not to touch mind you) but didn’t have much luck climbing high enough. To avoid discouragement I let her gather sticks, soft grasses, etc and set her homemade “nest” creations on the limbs she could reach with some easy climbing.
We tried out several new experiments involving birds. The oscillating woodpecker really pecked away at our paper towel tube (so neat), and we had fun learning how ducks stay dry but my favorite was one involving birds and beaks. I gave T several foods which replicate things different bird species would eat and tools to demonstrate the way in which they have to break open shells or tear up food or suck nectar to eat. She LOVED this one and I appreciated the fine motor practice it required.
I know I said this last year too but seriously, bird week makes for a great pre-k theme….I think my four year old rivaled the enthusiasm of elderly park bird watchers this week!
Can’t believe a new year is starting! I had planned to begin my year with an ocean unit so that I would have an extra week to plan before starting, but Aria was ready to hit the ground running. So, inspired by a trip to the local Coca-Cola Space Science Center here in Columbus, we started our school year instead with a space unit. This is always a huge hit every year because Aria loves studying the planets, so it was a really great way to ease into a routine.
Our local space science center was the best way to start our space week, as they have a new exhibit that allows you to experience what a takeoff and landing might be like in a space shuttle (without being too loud or jerky). It really is amazing to be inside what looks like a space shuttle and to see what the astronauts see. Even Skylar enjoyed and was able to get a lot out of the activities at the space center, particularly driving around robotic space rovers. From that point forward, the girls were invested heavily in learning about space, so starting the week with a field trip really was the way to go!
This year, we are also doing a small co-op with one of my friends in the area. Not only is it fun to have friends to go on field trips with, but it was great to have someone to do activities with middle of the week to break up the monotony. With our friends, we made a huge galaxy painting that two of her kids and my two girls took part in making. We also made hole punch constellations that we looked at with flashlights in the dark, made our own constellations, and decorated constellation cookies to eat. So much constellation fun, all leading to the best activity of the week, which was…
Looking at the moon and stars after dark later that night! If you do this unit, make sure that the first thing you do is download the SkyView Lite app. It is amazing! Not only does it show what the constellations look like, but shows you where they are in the sky, identifies major star names and planets, and gives you a view of what all of these planets look like closer up. You can also see the horizon line and “see” through buildings and the Earth itself. Between this app and using her binoculars to look at the moon, Aria had a blast looking at the stars. The next day she begged me to go star gazing again!
I’m trying to set more of a routine this year, which was a bit of an adjustment, but from what I’ve seen so far, it seems like it will be really good for both of my girls. They love starting the day with a Bible story and thematic storybook, and Aria is actually very responsive to workbook work. We are almost done with a Kindergarten prep workbook that we have worked through all summer (after which, I’ve told Aria that she can officially call herself a “kindergartener”), which is actually perfect because it fills the void until our Math U See Alpha and Sing, Spell, Read and Write materials show up. Both are on backorder for being so popular. Definitely one way to make me feel like I made a good curriculum choice, even if I want to be able to get fully started right this instant!
Well, we finished the week dealing with a bit of sickness that slowed our momentum down, but Aria really powered through and finished her work despite not feeling her best. She painted a solar system that we built using a kit, completed her worksheets, practiced addition and subtraction using playdough star maps, made a mini rocket go off over and over again in our kitchen, practiced orbitting, and so much more. This was a really full and satisfying week, and Aria’s enthusiasm really commits me to making our weeks busier and full of as many learning activities as possible. So glad our year started off with such a bang and can’t wait to see where it goes from here!
In honor of a birthday trip/engagement trip to NYC with Jessica and Taegan, I developed a cities unit to prepare Aria for what we would find in NYC. The great thing about the unit is that it could easily be adapted to any large city you visit. It is also a great chance to review information learned from a Safety/All About Me unit from the previous year, such as not talking to strangers and knowing your telephone number in case of separation. Not only was it a short and fun unit, but I really think that the material helped prepare Aria well for NYC so that the overload of people and information didn’t overwhelm her.
I divided the unit into two sections: what makes up a city (with a specific focus on things we would find in the city of NY) and a museum portion to prepare for our visit to the Natural History Museum. We built our own subway out of an empty large box (that luckily was double layered, so we were able to turn it into two subway cars). The girls loved playing inside, and I laminated a metro card and map for them to practice “getting around” on the subway. We also had friends over and built our own city out of boxes and aluminum foil. The kids had a blast decorating them and then organizing and reorganizing the city like they were city planners. Additionally, I found a city kit at Hobby Lobby on sale earlier in the year that contained a fire station, garage, and construction site, so the girls were able to make that a part of their city and talk about what sort of jobs people might have in a city. This transitioned really well into a visit to the FDNY store in NY, where a firefighter gave the kids a great lesson on fire safety and they were able to climb all around a fire truck. Definitely a place not to miss!
At the recent homeschool conference I visited, I loaded up on historical Dover coloring books. There was a great one on the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island that gave background on those spots while also doubling as a coloring book. Coloring the book helped prepare us for riding the Staten Island Ferry and passing right by both locations. Highly recommend this free and short trip if you want to get close to the statue but not deal with the huge crowds.
Knowing that we would be doing an Eloise in the Plaza tea party in NY, we prepared ahead of time by reading Eloise in the Plaza and watching the show Me, Eloise. I’m not a huge fan of Eloise’s attitude, but this once a week tea party was perfect for kids and one of Aria’s favorite things that we did, other than the Central Park Zoo (which was the favorite). We had so much fun that day going to the Milk and Cookies spa for hair and nails and then looking fabulously dressed up at the tea party just like Eloise!
Lastly, we made sure to prepare ahead of time for the Natural History Museum by doing The Usbourne Museum Activity book and watching the Night at the Museum movie. Though Aria was a little bit concerned after watching the movie that the stuff in the museum would come alive, it got her excited for what we would find. We didn’t have days to wander the museum, so we couldn’t see as much as I would have liked, but the girls loved the ocean and dinosaur halls and saw some awesome skeletons. I would love to spend weeks wandering this museum because it was amazing, but a few hours were plenty for Aria and Taegan!
I could go on and on about the stuff to do in NYC with small girls, but really it was the city itself and its skyscrapers and busyness that Aria loved more than anything. She had a blast walking everywhere and always having something fun to do. So glad we spent our birthday money on a trip this year and can’t wait to see what city we find to visit next!
One of the big questions every homeschool family I know gets is, but what about socialization?! For a long time homeschooled children have been seen by some as socially stunted or “missing out” on peer relationships. Now I could rant for days about the advantages of real world experience instead of being locked in a classroom. We spend almost every day interacting with adults, seniors, and babies. We learn real world social skills from real world travel, errands, field trips, play dates, extracurricular activities etc. Nevertheless, at least to some extent, I understand classroom style learning can be helpful for development. For those facing family backlash, or quite simply in search of expanding social experience I highly recommend finding or starting a co-op. Since there are very few parent led cooperative education groups in my area, I found a few like minded moms and together we are starting our own group!
I hope to share our co-op experience as it evolves and inspire you to form similar groups in your own community through this blog. For me, spending time in nature and teaching life skills seems super important at this age. Thus I chose to partner with a fellow homeschool mom who runs a working organic farm. She agreed to provide the meeting space if I would invest time organizing the logistics to host approx 20 preschool to first graders in weekly outdoor lessons. We met for play dates over the summer and shared ideas on how to run the group while the kiddos got to know one another. While our official “lessons” won’t start till September here’s what I have worked out with the group so far:
1. Group Movement
We hope to start our meeting with yoga or story ballet, something theme related but fun and gross motor oriented for children’s busy bodies. For instance during space week we’ll pretend to be a rocket ship and fly through various moves visiting planets and exploring constellations with movement. I also like movement activities where kids work together (we have a parachute that could be fun) or even something as simple as playing tag teaches kids body awareness, to follow a set of rules, and good sportsmanship. Movement activities could end sitting cris-cross applesauce with the saying: body be still, mouth be still, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel your love. A little cheesy perhaps but everyone calms down and they spend a moment or two in visualization related to the topic we are going to cover before beginning other activities.
I’ve heard many many times that the only learning activity crucial to building a young child’s intellect is reading. I know children don’t always enjoy sitting still through a lengthy library storytime but I think it would be great if at least one short (on theme) story could be presented each time we meet. This is an easy way for those parents who are not super confident about leading the entire group through an activity to contribute and what I love about the fact we have a wide age range is that perhaps as our older students are expanding their reading skills they could actually be the one choosing a book and reading aloud to the group!
I like to start each unit by allowing the child to ask questions and discover details about a topic in their own way. For example, exploration for a human body theme could be taping pictures or words of body parts/organs/bones (dependent on age) to a partners body in the correct location. It could also be matching TOOB figures (which I have a ridiculous collection of) to 3-part Montessori cards and talking through how the items are similar/different. It could be as simple as having watermelon day and allowing the kids to discuss what the watermelon looks like, feels like, how hard or easily it cracks open, whats inside, etc. The kids ask questions, make observations, and learn things based on what they personally find interesting about a topic. Adults may suggest things the kids can try, or ask questions, but this section of the day is child-led learning.
This is where the slightly more traditional “school” activities come into play. As we get to know one another and discover where each child within the group is at we can tailor our activities or split into small groups perhaps to work on things you as a parent feel are important. I believe its possible to spend time practicing things you find essential to your childs growth in a fun thematic way. For example, using manipulatives during say “America” week. Very young children can sort coins into ice cube trays using fine motor tools. Next level kids can count the same items and sort them onto a greater than less than mat. Older children can use them for addition/subtraction practice, probability or to learn coin value etc. From a literary side, the youngest child can use dot markers to stamp A is for America. Next can match figurine symbols to beginning sounds. F connects to Flag…. Kids pinpoke a flag or star out of construction paper (so fun!....and trust me its safe) to improve pencil grip and penmanship. Older kids can copy the pledge of allegiance or write and illustrate a story telling what they love about our country. As a group we can perform skits or puppetshows, make art/crafts, sing songs about a topic, play topic related games, etc.
I believe snack time is less a way to keep kids from becoming hangry and more about lifeskills and fellowship. My vision here is that kids do everything from practicing safe cutting: say cucumbers with large handled crinkle cutter or kid-safe plastic knives they count out slices, take turns serving everyone….. to making green avocado deviled eggs from scratch (cooking/peeling eggs-mashing yolk and avocado-mixing ingredients-piping filling) could go along with Dr. Seuss “green eggs” book . They eat snack with a partner practicing conversational skills, manners etc and clean up everything as a team after.
I have never met a child who doesn’t LOVE experimental learning. And frankly this is my favorite thing to teach. Tornados in a bottle for weather week, Setting off a volcano for dinosaur week, making Oobleck for Dr. Seuss, pourable ice or oil blubber bag for arctic week, walking water rainbow for St. Patricks day, creating sound vibrations by yelling at rice on a saran wrapped bowl for music …..and on and on and on.
7. Sensory Play
I love the idea of giving the lead back to our children for the last part of co-op group. The best way I imagine that playing out is by providing sensory, pretend, or some combination of materials and letting the kids do their thing. For example on a gardening theme maybe they dig in the dirt, collect wildflowers, freely plant seeds. For human body week we bring along/make some doctor toys and they play that with minimal adult guidance. For ocean I have a bin filled with water, shells, aquatic figures. For space play with figures in moon sand and make believe astronauts/aliens. I currently have a box (some shoe size some large tote size) of play materials associated with at least 20 different themes I could bring to meet-ups. Obviously we would limit this a bit on bad weather days to avoid making a mess of our host’s house but as long as we’re outdoors let them play together, get messy, and be enjoy being kids! This could also be amended to a time of free play if parents are more comfortable with that but again, I love to integrate a learning theme anywhere possible so learning happens without formal or boring instruction.
Our curriculum will also be theme based (and I'll match as many weeks as possible to the themes I have planned for us to do at home) but because our setting is on a farm we will also be attempting to take full advantage of our surroundings and dive a little deeper into gardening, community style cooking, farm animals, nature, etc
Hope you find these ideas helpful for your own co-ops and I’ll continue to update as the year progresses and our group finds what works best for us!
Jessica and Ana
Our Homeschooling Mission Statement: We will strive to be patient, godly examples to our children, integrating biblical principles and morality into every subject. Learning should be fun. We will foster an attitude of lifelong curiosity and play while providing the best possible education we can through books, art, technology, food, tactile activities, and cultural experiences. Learning will not be dictated by hours on a clock but will be a way of life for our families.