Monday, April 27, 2009

Snow Days... on April 27th?

Yes, snow days... at the END of April. It is no joke! We woke up to this

Yes, that is snow on my newly planted seeds! Only about 3 - 4" or so!
By 10:30 the kids couldn't focus on reading any longer. We were sure it would be raining by now, but no. The snow just keeps falling...

We are now up to 7" as per our unobstructed back deck (not pictured here) and I seem to have lost my seedlings! (They are under all that white stuff somewhere!!)

So snow day... or rather... snow morning has ensued. The kids' snow pants are packed away so they are layered and outside until they get too cold...
... then we will get back to work! Ahhh... the joys of homeschooling!
Ash keeps asking me, "Why is it snowing when it is spring?" After all, we had 70+ degree weather last week. They were begging me to get the sandals and summer clothes out then. My only response, as I smile warmly, "Because we live in Montana!"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

10 Homeschooled Celebrities

A friend sent me this link to an article about 10 Homeschooled Celebrities. I am not a fan of CNN (long story!) but this article is worth a few minutes of reading. Fun information for sure and if you have any critics of your choice to homeschool... this article may give you some ammo to fire back with!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Knowledge IS (divine) Power

We get a really great Christian radio station in our area (KALS 97.1 F.M.) and when I can, I like to listen to their broadcast of teachings from Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll. Chuck just has a great way of tackling issues and truths in this world of ours. I am always inspired when I listen. Yesterday I decided to sign up for e-devotionals and newsletters at his website. Go ahead... check it out, I'll wait.

[You can also pipe into KALS's live broadcast and hear about our neck of the woods first hand! Lots of great music too :-) ]

So I got my first devotional today. It happened to be part 2 in his study of The Legacy of Learning. Ironically, this topic has been weighing heavy on my heart. Especially after I walked in to see my 10 year old/5th grader doing kindergarten level math yesterday for her slotted math time (seriously, it was 5+0 and the like!!) I have been trying to impress upon my children the importance of learning and the gravity of knowledge. I have tried to help them understand the need to challenge themselves and the disadvantages of stagnation in education.

I went to Insight for Living's website and looked up Part One. I printed both off and grabbed our study Bible.

Overall I truly feel that some sturdy groundwork was laid. We talked about the scriptures Chuck reads from. We discussed what knowledge and ignorance are. We talk about other examples in the Bible where knowledge is important. I have even revisited our morning discussion throughout the day. When my 10 year old seemed to teeter on melt down over skip counting with 7's this afternoon, I reiterated our study. I pointed out that we need to start with what we do know to find what we don't know. It helped. I also quoted Edison in the form of, "I haven't failed, I have found 10,000 ways that did not work"!

Knowledge is so important. Those without it are easily duped, mislead, and simply made fools of. Is this, perhaps, a keynote of the alleged "dumbing down" in our public schools? My (public schooled) oldest son's 8th grade English teacher told her class the Swastika was the Jewish sign for good luck! Is this a way to keep them a step behind so they will fall for anything? I do NOT want that for my homeschooled children. That is why I am so animate in encouraging thought and the active pursuit of knowledge!

It is inspiring to find truth and support in God's Word (and handy quotes). I am uplifted and hopeful, though I know many 'reminders' will be needed to impress these points. I am thankful that I now have a foundation to build on and that the kids are already responding more to that than to my nagging. Praise God for His Holy Word!

Glacier NP looks Great for 100!

Glacier National Park is a truly, breathlessly, beautiful place. The pictures, while gorgeous, do not do its majesty justice! The kids and I try to make a point of regular visits. My spirit just feels so free when I enter the mountains of Glacier territory! If you are looking for a memorable family get-away next year, consider visiting Northwest Montana during the celebration of Glacier Park's Centennial! (I'm not a paid promoter... just a lover of this wonderful place!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great books should be shared...

I just wanted to share a book I read this past weekend. Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home by Rhonda Barfield, published by Fireside. Whenever a book finds a special place in our hearts, we should spread the word!

Veteran homeschoolers may already know of/have read this book. For those of you that don't, here are some of my own personal notes, praises and reflections:

I checked this book out from the library because I have felt like I was floundering lately. You know the typical; can't get anything done, am I doing the right thing, what is best/worst, what are other parents doing???? This book did NOT let me down!

One thing that appealed to me in Real Life Homeschooling was that there were so many families with so many different situations. I found myself gleaming information I felt was helpful, encouraging, reassuring and inspiring.

One of the many things that resonated with me was that most families lamented to the disorder of their homes! Each family managed that disorder in different ways (I'm going to make you read the book to find out how!). I am a clean and order person living in a messy disordered house, so the many tid-bits on this topic were helpful!

I was also impressed with the level of commitment these parents have to their children and the varied ways they find, and define, education and experience. I realized, through my reading, how important consistency and a commitment to following through can positively impact and expand educational experiences. Sound like common sense? It should be but, when we homeschool, it is all too easy to let some things fall by the wayside without a second thought.

Another point that was a reiteration of previous knowledge was the underlying "goals" that most parents had. I don't mean goals as in let's learn Spanish this year. No. When I was working on my Early Childhood Education degree, we had to submit an Action Plan and a Philosophy paper as our final project. My instructor described it as a paper that would explain, "Why we do what we do". Homeschool is no different. I have thought it before and seeing these families putting it to work has inspired me to take my "Action Plan" more seriously. What do I want to accomplish between now and when my children graduate? Not merely academics, but more-so spiritually and ethically. What is our purpose and what purpose do we hope to instill?

All of these families attest to the good days and the bad. All of them are REAL people! They offer up samples of a "typical" day, curriculum they use (or don't use!), and inspiration. They all appear genuine and it is because of this authenticity that I have filled pages in my notebook with notes and quotes to remind me and help me in each step of my days as homeschool mom. This book has me thinking about what we can be doing.... and what we can be doing better!

My hat is off to Rhonda Barfield. I highly recommend this book to ANY homeschooling parent, new or old, who ever feels discouraged or frustrated or at a loss. It is wonderful inspiration!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring is in the air and I LOVE homeschooling!

So I have been 'on the run', if but only mentally, lately. While my oldest is in high school track (he is a thrower) and we need to coordinate around practice and meets, I am still managing the last few weeks of 2 online college classes. I am also piecing through the research I have been promising on Auditory Processing Delays (APD) as well as flying through a book I checked out, "Real Life Homeschooling" by Rhonda Barfield. I am preparing notes for a book review post. (yes, I thrive on multi-tasking!)

In the meantime, the kids and I decided to start planting our garden today. We used a document I created to begin charting this process. The day being so nice and all, I prepared a snack and we headed out to do our "schoolwork" at the picnic table....

So I wonder... how often do public schools do schoolwork this way?
We all had a wonderful time :-)
By the way... my son's posture as he is writing... he use to get in trouble for that in public school. Unfortunately, I am NOT kidding! You have no idea how excited he was to finally realize that, at home, he can sit however he wants as long as he gets the job done!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Legos are Learning that K’NEX our Knowledge

Legos for learning? You bet! K’NEX for knowledge? You know it! I have always thought these fun little bricks and sticks had the capacity to be tools of knowledge. I set out in search of facts to support my theory and was not disappointed. A multitude of resources confirm the idea that we can and should use “toys” like Legos and K’NEX to teach and nurture our children’s imaginations and understanding of the world around them.

As I searched the web, I found universities from coast to coast boasting of their successful programs implemented with Legos and K’NEX. Oregon State University is investing their four-year pursuits with knowledge based in the functions of Legos. They are awarding degrees in all areas of the Engineering fields by laying a foundation in Lego construction both with traditional sets as well as with Mindstorm sets. Students attest to the great depth this offers to their understanding in their given fields of pursuit.

Across the country, students at MIT are brainstorming with Lego Mindstorms. The concepts learned through undergraduate programs at MIT are broadening horizons in hands-on education. Associate Professor of Research in Education Mitchel Resnick says, “Young children have always learned about the world through direct manipulation and exploration.” (1997) Golden common sense from higher education! We can certainly concur with that.

Universities and professionals the nation wide agree that the fundamentals of science and engineering begin with using Legos and K’NEX. These toyish tools of learning facilitate concepts such as: problem solving in the physical world, active learning, logical stimulation, imagination, spatial reasoning, balance, and for those younger kiddos; manipulation of an object, hand-eye coordination, and sensory development (best done with Duplos if the child still puts objects in their mouth).

So what now? Well, if you don’t have these handy “tools” around the house, you might start by investing in some. When we first began homeschooling, I ordered the K’NEX Education sets.
They come with instruction books on everything from simple machines to gears and levers. They currently run around $30 each at They also make great birthday and holiday gifts! They have provided hours of endless exploration and educational opportunity for my children

Lego sells similar “Education” sets but they cost more. I personally recommend just investing in regular Lego sets. They come with directions and parts that will help children learn how to construct objects that bend and move or stand and balance. We have been collecting Legos of all kinds for many years and the ideas never seem to end!

You can also visit my article “Playing is Learning with Legos” for inspiration and information on activities for Lego and K’NEX based curricular development. Remember, the idea is for your child to gather the problem solving skills and logic that learning (playing) with Legos affords all on its own. Too much adult intervention and direction will stifle this learning process. It is best to stand back, observe, and only offer help when asked or when a child becomes frustrated. Only help until they ‘get the idea’ and then stand back again.

One last note on the educational benefits of Lego and K’NEX toys: directions. Reading and following directions is a critical skill that ALL people need to possess. Showing your child how to follow the directions that come with a building set will open a new door to a world of possibilities. It is almost magical to them to take that booklet and follow along as each little piece is put together to make something bigger, workable, and understandable. It is like a puzzle in 3-D… what wonder!

… Don’t forget, if you have a Visual/Spatial learner, especially one with ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or any Auditory Processing Disorder, hands-on activities are the best way to teach and learn!

Moser, Jennifer. “OSU ENGINEERS LEARN BY "PLAYING" WITH LEGOS, ROBOTS”. 2005. OSU News and Communication Services. Oregon State University. <>

LaCroix, Debbie. “Parenting tips: construction toys as learning tools”. 2002. eSSORTMENT-information and advice you want to know. <>

“MIT develops new generation of learning tools for kids”. 1997. massachusetts institute of technology. November 20, 1997. <>

Pinkus, Ari. “Engineering class uses toys as learning tools”. 2001. The Daily Collegian Online. Penn State. Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001. <>

Playing is Learning with Legos

We have accumulated a large bin full of Legos over the years. Their vintage begins in the early days of construction when I was little and Legos were simple blocks. Now the collection has accumulated the more complex designs of Star Wars Ti-fighters and Indian Jones Temples collected by my sons. When I was young, we made little more than simple brick houses but most Lego sets now-a-days come with parts that allow for all types of movement on any Lego creation a child may choose to build.

With this in mind, we can begin to explore how Legos are great for learning. Whether your child is old enough and able to use directions or they simply grab a handful of these plastic bricks and start constructing, Legos are a fast-paced avenue for problem solving and learning. Consider this:

- How can I make a moving propeller on my Lego airplane and landing gear that can go up and down as needed?
- How will I fit 30 pieces of various shapes and sizes into a 4 brick x 3 brick area on my Lego platform?
- What pieces do I need when building a Lego house if I want to accommodate for a door and two windows and still have a structurally sound building?

These are just a few questions that reflect how complex thought processes develop while learning (playing) with Legos. I went on a quest to justify my ideas that “playing” with Legos is really learning. Some of the results are in my article, “Legos are Learning that K’NEX our Knowledge”.

Here I want to explore just how we can use these playful “tools” as a vehicle in learning.

"Take us to your leader!"

To begin with, Legos and K’NEX both offer great tips and lesson plans for educators at their websites.

While my eight-year-old son and I explored the Lego website, we found a wealth of ideas and fun. He played some of the online games and discovered that the website offers step-by-step instructions on building various objects
(no purchase necessary!)

I also found an area to sign up for a FREE subscription to Lego Magazine
. Once you are at the subscription page, select your country from the sidebar on the right and follow the directions. It is quick and easy and, best of all, it’s FREE! Kids can read the comics provided each month and also find inspiration for their building ideas.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine find inspiration just about anywhere. If it is a new movie, we might have Lego and K’NEX versions of the main characters all over our house. If they decide their stuffed animals or Barbie need a new house or couch or spaceship or car… the Lego and K’NEX bin takes center stage! Websites like Lego’s will even inspire kids to make the structures they are playing with on the Web… 2-D is now 3-D and in their hands, with problem solving skills at the helm all the way!

No Instructions Required
A dear family friend’s favorite “animal” is the frog. My darling son decided to make her one out
of Legos and K’NEX. No directions, just his imagination and experience to guide the process! (Sorry the picture is fuzzy.)

As I mentioned in my other article on Legos, directions are priceless as learning tools. My son and I built a Lego Clone Walker together. I went step-by-step with him showing him how to follow the directions and find the pieces. We were half-way done when bedtime approached. The next morning he woke early (before me!) and finished building by following the directions the way I showed him. He realized that he could build a multitude of objects just by following the directions he had saved from other building sets and the most amazing structures began to emerge from his room!

Here are some K’NEX projects we built last winter during an “Inventors” unit study we did. The chain saw, blender, and car were built by following the directions. Comparatively, the bike and rotating umbrella table were built using the skills they learned by following directions on the other objects.

(Another funky/fuzzy picture unfortunately)

Problem solving at its best. Making things work… understanding how they work… applying knowledge and skills that are obtained.

Quick Tip: We now have a table for constructing on. It usually corals the mess in one spot. However, a friend recently shared a GREAT tip with me… get an old sheet. Lay it out and have kids play with Legos on the sheet. When they are done, they need only pick up the sheet and dump the Legos back into their bin. This saves A LOT of time on clean up and you will find far less stray Legos on the floor with your feet!

As you can see, Lego learning is quite easy. Most children are already doing it without anyone realizing their play is actually logging Homeschool hours! Nevertheless, if the above paragraphs still haven’t convinced you that free form Lego “play” is learning, you can coral their ideas with the suggestions below. DON’T tell them HOW to get the end result… just give them the direction and watch them go. Let them make mistakes… they will learn from these mistakes. As I mentioned in my other article on Legos, don’t help unless they ask for help or are getting frustrated. If you see a child getting frustrated, don’t just jump in. Ask them, “Would you like me to help you?” This gives them the help they need without making them feel powerless (because they think they are still in control when you ask their permission!).

Pick one and Get it done!
- Build something as tall as yourself. It can’t fall over easily.
- Build a boat
- Build a robot. Does it do anything special?
- Build a two-story house with at least 4 windows and at least 1 door.
- Build a spaceship that can carry people and cargo.
- Construct a mode of transportation and tell about how it is used.
- Build an amusement park ride. What is it called and how much does it cost to ride?
- Build a pyramid.
- Build something that uses only one color of Legos.
- Build a musical instrument, play it, and make up a song.
- Build something that spins.
- Build a pet. Name it. Can it do tricks? What does it like to eat?
- Construct a town or city. What is the name of your town? Tell about:
o Some fun places to go in it
o Some of the jobs people have
o Where people shop and eat
o Special laws

You can also practice listening skills using Legos (or K’NEX). In “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas” (2002) Linda Dobson suggests:
Give two children the same number and sizes of pieces of Legos or any other building set with lots of duplicate pieces. Have them sit back to back or in another way in which they can hear but can’t see each other. Ask one child to build something from his pieces. Now the fun begins.
This child must give directions to the other child so that she can build the same thing—no peeking! Have the children take turns building and giving directions. Watch them try hard to figure out what went wrong, and communicate better the next time.
As the children grow and/or get better at the game, you can set a time limit and/or add more pieces to build a more complex model.

Whatever you decide to do… just have fun and know that learning can and should be fun!

… Don’t forget, if you have a Visual/Spatial learner, especially one with ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or any Auditory Processing Disorder, hands-on activities are the best way to teach and learn!

Dobson, Linda. The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm Back

For followers of my blog... I'm back! I haven't logged in for about a month. It is a long, personal story as to why but I am happy to report that the worst is over (hopefully!!) :-)

There is so much to share from happenings during my absence but I don't want this entry to turn into a novel so I am going to just share a breakthrough with everyone:

My darling ADHD daughter has difficulty F-O-C-U-S-ing. She will ask a question and then, mid-way through answering, she will interrupt with a thought or question about something else entirely different (typical ADHD for those who don't know!).

I try to be understanding and give grace. But it is hard at times. Ever since homeschooling began my husband and I will go around the dinner table with a topic or question for the kids to share in an educated discussion on. Recently we were discussing our studies on the Earth layers and basic geology and mid way through the discussion my darling daughter raised her hand. When picked she asked, "I have a question but it doesn't have to do with what we are talking about, can I ask it now?"

Anyone with a severely ADHD child will know, about right now, how I felt!! I was almost in tears and jumping with joy as I replied, "No, Ashley, you need to wait just a bit, but thank you for asking!". Oh my what a breakthrough for her!


So.... what is up next? Well, with a month of catch up to get logged in and some serious research in process on B's Auditory Delays... I have a lot in store for my regular readers :-) Please, keep checking back!