North America Part 1: Focus on Mexico, Canada, and Animals of North America
I won’t lie, when I started preparing for this unit, I didn’t know how much I would find for a “North America" unit but I knew it would be an immense amount. I felt like the concept was too broad and there was too much information to cover, which would thoroughly overwhelm me. So, I decided to divide the continent into two units: a unit on the United States and a unit covering Mexico and Canada. I knew I could find plenty on the USA to fill up at least a week, but I wanted to save the US until President’s Day (though in hindsight it would’ve worked well in conjunction with the elections too). Covering Mexico at this time of year really ended up being a perfect fit because of the timing of Day of the Dead (which is November 1st this year). Plus, so many of the activities we did for Day of the Dead segued easily into our Halloween unit. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many fun ideas I found for Canada and learned more about both cultures than I ever expected.
I started the week covering North America as a whole (where things are and the animals of North America) and then spent the rest of the first two days talking about Canada. I found a really amazing site with loads of sensory and fine motor skills activities for Canada, so it was a fun unit to do with both girls, not just Aria. By the end of the first two days, we had made a fizzy baking soda flag, played with a felt flag, played in a Canadian flag rice sensory bin, and made the flag with play dough. (Tip: Save the red and white rice for used again over Valentine’s Day week). Aria knew the flag so well and enjoyed working on it so much that she painted me the flag multiple times of her own volition. On top of that, we did maple leaf painting, painted with maple syrup, and even made our own book about Canada. Two days were plenty for Canada, though, so we gladly moved on to Day of the Dead and Mexico.
For co-op this week, we focused on having a Day of the Dead celebration Coco style. That means, we in no way covered all of the significance of the holiday but did our best to learn about and honor some of the traditions of the day that we got a glimpse of in the movie Coco. We decorated masks and dressed up in costumes from Michaels. We also decorated the house and colored skulls. Then, we made a feast together from a Mexican cooking book of really basic dishes, like guacamole, salsa, quesadillas, a Mexican banana smoothie, and a fruit salad (see Taste of Mexico in lesson plans). I considered making dishes more traditional to the day, but I wanted the kids to take part in making the meal and figured it might be too much for both me and them! Some of the kids loved all of the food and some weren’t interested in trying any of it, but they all took part in making it and enjoyed cooking as a team.
For the rest of the week, we worked on Mexico as a country and covered a few more Day of the Dead activities we couldn’t get to with our friends. We made play dough in the colors of the Mexican flag and made it smell like coconut with coconut extract. (We saved the play dough to use again at Christmas because the colors work well for Christmas colors, so we will see how it holds up.) We also made paper plate skull masks, homemade Mexican chocolate in skull molds (which was a fail but ah, well), maracas, a sun craft, clay bowls and more. The girls both really got into all of the crafts and learning fun facts about Mexico.
I loved this unit far more than I thought that I would, though I really think the key to that was celebrating Day of the Dead with our friends and being super hands on with everything that we did. I will definitely repeat this unit and I think both girls can’t way to celebrate Day of the Dead again. I’m glad we are taking a bit of a break from our geography units to really enjoy all of the seasonal activities and units coming up, but after this week I have renewed vigor about our units in the spring and all of the exciting things we will learn!
All About Me week was not what I would call successful from an organizational standpoint. I planned to do a whole day of activities around the fruits of the spirit that I never got to do and we postponed our family tree activities to Sunday after a rough doctor visit. Plus, all of our co-op friends were sick, so no co-op. It was a week where we were all struggling with sleep and our busy weekends catching up to us, and that just happens sometimes! However, we celebrated Aria’s birthday, still got some activities done, and went on some awesome adventures, so the week wasn’t a complete write-off. Just a lesson to learn on trusting your body as a homeschool parent when your body is telling you enough is enough!
I always try to do All about Me week over the week of Aria’s birthday, so per our tradition, we did that again this year. The weekend before and after All About Me, we went to several fun events in and out of the city, so even though we didn’t do a party this year, our adventures more than made up for it. We went to “Barktoberfest” with my in-laws and saw rescue dogs and had a blast petting animals and painting pumpkins. Then, we went to a civil war re-enactment, which was loads of fun and had a lot of kids activities. The weekend following our unit, we went to a pumpkin patch for an entire day of fun. So, when it came time to do traditional schoolwork, we ended up saying “let’s push this off” a good bit solely out of a need to survive!
I decided to divide the days up into self, emotions and the face, 5 senses, family tree, and the aforementioned fruits of the spirit (which we didn’t get to do). “About Myself” was put on hold on Aria’s actual birthday because we spent the day playing with her few new gifts, but the following day we wrote a book all about Aria and she actually wrote a lot herself. We took pages from several different worksheets and ended up with a largish book that we can look back at next year to see how much Aria has changed.
Emotions and the face was fun because we played games and drew different faces. We even made our own emotions book and Aria traced what she thought she saw in the mirror. My favorite part was Skylar sitting and listening and then pointing out the different facial expressions because she learned them from her sister!
5 senses was definitely the favorite because it was so hands on. The 5 senses table looks intense to make, but it probably took about 20 minutes to pull together and yet kept both of my girls busy for quite a while. We followed that up with a dice sensory game and sensory scavenger hunt, so just a fun filled day.
Lastly, family tree day was super fun even though we had to put it off a few days after a rough doctors appointment that led to a long nap. I ordered family pictures of any family I had pictures of from the past year and labeled the backs with their full names and titles. Then, placed them in a rice bin. After the girls got tired of playing in the rice bin, we glued them onto a “family tree” and talked about how our family is connected, which was definitely complicated because of so many divorces in my family but fun nonetheless!
I love All About Me week, and I think a key takeaway this week is that it doesn’t matter how much stuff you get done or how much you can accomplish as long as you are taking care of yourself and your babies in the process. Part of being a good homeschool mom or student is getting rest and knowing when a day of lessons just won’t work for you, and I personally think that is 100% okay and a key benefit to homeschooling! It isn’t how much you teach, it is how much your child absorbs and how well you love them through it all. Hopefully that lesson really sticks with me this year and this week of frustration and exhaustion makes me a better mom in the long run!
Human body week this year was just as much fun as I remember it being last year. Perhaps even more fun at times because we were able to do activities with several of our friends during co-op. This was just the break we needed from our very intensive geography units, so I’m really glad we switched the units so that I could get some much needed rest, as could Aria. This was definitely one of her favorite units that we have done so far, and perhaps the most successful in teaching her new things. She now knows all of her organs, several of her bone names, and more technical terms for germs and blood, so I am really grateful that she was so responsive to all of the lessons!
We divided the week into 5 different concepts: Skeleton, Heart, Digestion and Intestines, Skin and Germs, and Organs. In hindsight, perhaps I would have just gone with each day being a different system, but this structure worked well for dividing up the activities that I have without overloading too many days. Our busiest day was most certainly skeleton day, as I had loads of skeleton activities, so we covered it on Monday (as that is generally our most focused day). Aria loves anything skeleton and bone related, so she had a blast. The bone magnifying glass literacy game was an awesome find that I can use again during our dinosaur unit. The x-ray matching was a great activity too, and if you laminate it, you can easily reuse it year after year.
Heart day was an easy, short day before we hit up the library, followed by a super fun day of co-op on Wednesday where we covered organs. I made up several different tables of activities divided up by type and parents could go around with their kids to do the different crafts or show them how the activities worked. I had an organ table with organ matching, a heart game, magnetic body the kids could wear, facepainting a muscle face, jello brain dissection, and playdough skeleton. Then, I had a skeleton table where the kids could do some of the favorite activities from our lesson on Monday. Lastly, I had a germ table (which we covered further later in the week). One of my friends brought fruit over so that we could look at different types of skin and used glue that the kids let dry and peeled off of their fingers to look at fingerprints. And another friend came up with the idea of the kids tracing and drawing themselves on a sheet of paper, which they all loved doing, even Skylar!
Digestion and intestines day was loaded with fun science experiments and hands on backyard activities, like seeing how long your intestines are. The bread science experiment was also a hugely fun and such a great way to show how food can become poop. Lastly, germ day as always was a blast. We played with glitter, pepper and soap, which are also great ways to show how germs stick on your body and run away from soap. The girls also really loved helping me clean the house and getting rid of all of the dirt and germs. They even fought over who could wipe the windows next or who got to scrub the toilet. Who knew cleaning could be so fun?
Weeks like this one make me so happy that Aria sees learning as something fun and not just hours on a clock or something she “has” to do. Sometimes math and reading can be a drag, but she hardly ever seems to feel that way about our themed units. This was actually a week full of intensive learning of information, lots of which I never learned very well when I was in school (so I was learning along with her), yet she loved every bit of it and would ask me the names of everything as she went. If there is one thing I can leave the week saying I’m most proud of is that she learned and loved every second of it.
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.