Curriculum Plans 2012-13 (5th and 3rd grade)

Like most homeschooling families, our curriculum is hand picked each year by me. In doing so, my choice is dictated by the learning style of each child. Fortunately, they both really enjoy listening to me read aloud from Story of the World and both have had great success with Singapore Math. They both respond similarly to other curricula I’ve used so this makes making new choices easy – as well as less expensive since they can use the same textbooks (I need only to buy new consumables or workbooks).

One of our favorite components of our history curriculum is the use of a Book of Centuries or Timeline Book.  Buddy began his just a year ago and while we were setting his up, Sweetie decided she wanted to redo hers.  She was not happy with the way she had done hers previously so I helped her set up a  new one.  Essentially, they both now use a spiral bound notebook with hard covers (found at Barnes & Noble).  On the left side they adhere the timeline figures which we print onto sticker paper.  One the right, they write a brief sentence about the figure(s).  Sweetie’s book is pictured in the forefront of the photo below and mine is in the background.  My book is different in that I matte the figures onto color-coded paper (one color for each continent) before adhering them into the album.

“All men who have turned out worth anything 
have had the chief hand in their own education.”
~ Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

The most recent choice we’ve settled upon is First Language Lessons; as I hadn’t formerly taught English grammar lessons to Sweetie – the kids are working through this together.  We started with volume 2 a year ago and are now underway with volume 3.   Though some of the material has been redundant, I make an effort to skim through the lessons ahead of time – sometimes choosing to omit or modify lessons according to taste.

As we proceed with our education, I am beginning to see evidence of their growing maturity. Sweetie is taking on more responsibility for her own education – working through Life of Fred independently before we continue with Singapore. She generally also completes her assignments for Mandarin with little or no guidance from me – choosing to email her tutor when she has questions. This works very well since she is truly becoming bilingual and I am not able to help her with the nuances of the language. This year, she will also begin working through a writing curriculum on her own, Writing With Skill Level 1. I look forward to seeing her blossom into the young woman I occasionally see glimpses of today.

Building Tetrahedron Kites

Few things capture the spirit of spring like flying a kite. Watching a kite dance and sail across the sky is not only a visually appealing experience, it also provides a foundation for studies in aerodynamics – a discipline that beautifully integrates science and mathematics.  Building tetrahedron kites combines art and handcrafts as well.

The Science of Kites

A kite is a tethered aircraft that flies when the forces of lift and thrust are greater than the forces of drag and gravity.  In between flying and crashing to the ground are a variety of swoops, wiggles, pitches, yaws, and rolls that show the kite is seeking a balance among the conflicting forces.

A kite creates a physical obstacle to the normal airflow which causes the air to change direction and speed. The air flows across one surface faster than it moves across the other side of that surface. This difference in speeds results in lift in the direction of the surface with faster moving air. As air pressure can be altered by changing the kite’s angle of attack, the changes in air speed result in changes in air pressure, which cause the kite to produce greater lift.

Constructing a Kite

Begin by constructing a pyramid composed of equilateral triangles by running string through three straws, arranged in a triangle.  Continue on with the string through two additional straws, forming an additional triangle (the two triangles now share the same base).  Finally, run the string through one more straw and lift the left triangle upward to form a pyramid, tying the the lead end of the strings.

tetrahedron template

Use the template pictured here to cut out a tissue-paper covering for two sides of the tetrahedron. The template measurements are for standard length drinking straws.  Cover only two sides of the tetrahedron.  Glue the covering over the frame, wrapping the excess materials around the straw frame.  Repeat these steps to create a total of four tetrahedrons.

More detailed instructions for building these kites can be found at Easy Kitemaking: How to Build a Pyramid Kite.

triangular kite

Designing an Experiment

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the characteristics of the tetrahedron kite, design an experiment to determine how changing one variable in the kite’s design will affect its performance.

For example, you may wish to build a kite using heavier tissue paper or a different kind of covering altogether (newspaper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil for example).  You may try a kite with a larger number of tetrahedron cells (16 instead of 4).


Curriculum & Learning Goals for 2010-11 (3rd and 1st grade)

I am still very pleased with the resources and curriculum I have purchased in the past.  Therefore, my learning goals for the year and the tools I will use to achieve them are very similar to last year.  I was much more successful in regards to accountability this past year but I am not yet where I want to be in this regard.  I feel I’m on a roll, however, and will continue to build on the successes we’ve experienced recently.

  • Reading: We’ve been successful with 30 min of independent reading but haven’t been doing it daily.  We didn’t reach our goal of reading independently for 60 minutes so we’ll reach for that again this year.  MeiLi has come a long way this past year.  She is reading more complex chapter books and doesn’t struggle as often.  She now will stay up late to read independently on occasion as well.  Buddy has grown tired of the Now I’m Reading series of easy readers, which to be honest, so have I.  He is now taking an interest in easy chapter books like Frog & Toad Are Friends.
  • Grammar & Writing: Integrated through science and history … copywork, letters to family and friends, creative writing activities, etc. We’ve been much more consistent here – partially due to integrating a daily reflection journal as part of our geology study, Explore Our World :: Africa.
  •  Shakespeare:  We studied The Twelfth Night this past year.  My intention was to take the kiddos to a performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  As I was looking up ticket information, I discovered they give a family performance in September for discounted prices.  I figured this would be the best option for our first time.  I don’t yet know what we’ll study this coming year as it will depend on what performances will be selected at OSF.
  • Handwriting: I don’t think we practiced handwriting more than once or twice last year.  We have a long way to go as a result.  MeiLi needs work in cursive and Buddy has been getting sloppy so he needs some penmanship practice as well.
  • Spelling: This is another area that I rarely bothered with last year.  Both kiddos seem to pick up words as they use them so it hasn’t been of much concern.  Maybe 2010-11 will be different.
  • Math: MeiLi continues to excel in math. She has just begun Singapore 4A. Buddy is also doing well and recently begun Singapore 2A.  I don’t see a need to change this as we’ve been very consistent with our math studies.
  • Science: We were very successful this past year with science.  We covered Astronomy and Geology units rather throughly.  Our goals for science this year include Simple Machines, Electricity, Magnetism, Energy & Motion.
  • Nature Study: We’ve begun to undertake a weekly nature study with our Roots & Shoots club.  When possible I try to coordinate with Barb’s challenges at Handbook of Nature Study.  I am also looking into the possibilities of volunteering regularly at a local horse ranch as a part of Roots & Shoots.
  • History: As we haven’t yet finished volume 2, we are continuing with Story of the World: Medieval Times.  We very much enjoy the accompanying coloring pages and map work.  As we proceed, we will be transitioning MeiLi to written narrations rather than oral.
  • Physical Education: We’ll continue with our study of Taekwondo.  We’ve been talking of potentially joining swim team but it is an equally big commitment.  MeiLi will be testing for her black belt early next summer so that has been the focus right now.  We’ll also continue to incorporate other activities  throughout the year.
  • Mandarin Chinese: MeiLi will be continue meeting with a private tutor for 1 hour each week.  We’ve been a little more consistent in doing the homework assignments and accompanying workbook activities. Though I still feel we could do better.  I don’t hear her speak so I really have no concept of how much she really knows.  Tinsel says she is doing well, though.
  • Spanish:  Buddy has recently developed a strong desire to learn Spanish.  I think this is in part due to the fact that one of his friends in the neighborhood speaks Spanish.  I am delighted.  It provides us with some structure when MeiLi is working on her Mandarin lessons.
  • Art & Music History: We will continue to use Themes to Remember to aide in our quarterly composer studies.  We’ll also continue to study an artist each term as well.  This is another area that fell to the side in 2009-10.  I hope to improve here as well.  Artists I hope to cover this year are:  David Wiesner,  Georgia O’Keefe, and  . Composers I hope to study include: Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and ?
  • Music: Both kiddos will continue to take piano lessons with Janellybean.   Buddy has also begun to study guitar.  MeiLi wants to learn flute.  However, I honestly don’t know how we can manage to learn two instruments.  I’d rather they focus on just piano right now but I don’t want them to get discouraged either.  I need to give this area some more thought.


The Study of Snow for Young Learners

On Tuesday, our Roots & Shoots club gathered in our room with the intention of studying the science of snow. Unfortunately, it hasn’t snowed in some time and we didn’t  have much of a snowpack to observe. I thereby had to make some modifications to my original plan.

Young girl examining fresh snowflakes on a black piece of paper

Capturing freshly fallen snow

Connecting Literature

After everyone arrived, I gathered the kids on the carpet and read aloud a favorite book, Snowflake Bentley. It is a rather lengthy story but most everyone was attentive and engrossed in the story. Everyone that is, except Buddy, who was much more interested in demonstrating his skills as a train engineer and Polar Express enthusiast. “Choo Choooooooooo!” he exclaimed loudly as he ran circles around the house. It took a little while to get him quiet – I was a little embarrassed – but he made us all chuckle.  [ One of the true joys of homeschooling diverse ages of children. ]

After the story, we got the wiggles out and then sat down in the office where I showed a short video clip which explained how snowflakes are formed. For most of the kiddos, I’m sure it went over their heads – but it was exposure and if nothing else, they will understand that snow is made of tiny crystals, none of which are exactly alike.

I then showed part of a second clip… which explained how to go about studying snow. I encouraged everyone to give it a try at home when it snowed again. I gave the adults a few handouts to take home.

A young girl captures snow as it's falling onto black contrasting paper

Art & Writing Activity

I then gathered everyone around the dining room table and showed them how to make paper snowflakes. I was surprised that most of the kids had never done this before so it was a delight. I had templates with valentine themed patterns (hearts, of course) to make it easier. I also encouraged everyone to create their own designs.

I didn’t anticipate the difficulty that some would have cutting into the thick layers of paper, however. Everyone, therefore, created at least one snowflake, but only the more experienced with scissors chose to make more.Sweetie loved it as I knew she would. The following day she continued to make snowflakes and we were able to create a curtain or arch in one doorway. See her post, Snow Haiku, for a visual as well as a haiku she wrote later that day.

Hands-on Snow Study

Fortunately, it snowed again on Sunday so my kiddos were able to get out and do the snow study as shown in the video. I hope others did as well. We didn’t bother to count the number of each type of snow crystal – but we did, in fact identify a number of them including: Hexagonal Plates, Stellar Plates, and Capped Columns. We thereafter spent time sketching each in our nature journals. We recorded the outdoor temperature was 20 degrees, no wind.

Submitted to Barb’s Winter Nature Study :: Snow 25th January 2009.

Our Iditarod Unit Study – A Summary of Our Activities

We have recently completed our unit study on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. We enjoyed learning about the Arctic and the history of the race. We also enjoyed charting the progress of our mushers each day and learning more about sled dog racing. This post serves as a summary of the many activities we incorporated. I owe many thanks to the homeschooling families that preceded me and posted their activities on their own blogs. They are an invaluable resource and I turned to them most frequently as I planned our own activities. Sweetie also enjoyed looking at their blogs and would occasionally ask if she could also do one or more of the activities they shared.


Math – We printed musher stat sheets to record the progress of each musher. We also created probability graphs for this years participants. I walked Sweetie through the calculations and we used tiles to create a visual to represent each group. I didn’t expect her to understand much of the process but I wanted to at least expose her to circle graphs and probability. I was very surprised when DH came home that evening and she excitedly narrated what each graph represented and who she predicted would have the best chance of winning. She remembered what each graph represented and what the numbers were communicating. I was very pleased. iditarod unit studyArt & Handcrafts – We studied the artwork of Pacific Northwest Indians and Inuits. We still working on a carving a family totem pole in rock (more on that later). We carved Arctic animals in ivory soap. Sweetie created watercolor paintings of Balto, Arctic Wolves, and an Aurora Borealis.

Science – We watched a few movies about the Arctic. Sweetie made a coloring book about the animals from Alaska. Buddy sorted pictures of Arctic Animals with Sweetie’s help. We joined our COOL friends for a guided snow shoe walk. The walk was led by naturalist volunteers with the Forest Service and they pointed out many things in relation to winter adaptations, the water cycle and climate.

History / Social Studies – We added the Serum Run and inaugural Iditarod to our Book of Centuries. We learned how the musher prepares for the race, including the supplies needed, clothing, food and equipment. Sweetie made a model of a dog sled with Popsicle sticks and labeled the parts of the team. We scanned the newspaper for articles about the Iditarod. As a family, we enjoyed a REAL sled dog ride near Mt.Bachelor.

Geography – Created a wall map with all the checkpoints marked. We checked on the progress of each of our mushers daily and marked their location on the map. We discussed the climate and other characteristics of several of the checkpoints.

Language Arts – We read several books about the Iditarod, the Arctic and Alaska (see resource list below). Sweetie did several pages from Draw Write Now! (Arctic Loon, Arctic Fox, Polar Bear, Walrus, and The Polar Regions). She did a few worksheets with related spelling/vocabulary words. She used many of the little books & worksheets to put together her Iditarod Lapbook.


The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford
Whale in the Sky by
Iditarod Spirit by Kim Heacox
No End in Sight by Rick Steber
Arctic Lights Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller
Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart
Kiana’s Iditarod by Shelley Gill
Polar Animals by Wade Cooper
Akiak by Robert J. Blake
The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller
“Iditarod” Bend Living magazine Feb 2008
Animal Survivors of the Arctic by Barbara A. Somervill
Arctic Babies by Kathy Darling

Blogs & Websites:
Official Site of the Iditarod
Martin Zoo (homeschooling family)
Toad Haven (homeschooling family)
Scholastic (lesson plans)

Free Iditarod Insider Video
Arctic & Antarctic (Eyewitness Video)
Arctic Bears (PBS Nature)
Eight Below
Snow Buddies

To see how we began our unit study, see my earlier post Our Iditarod Unit Study.