Saturday, September 24, 2011

FIAR: The Rag Coat

Warning: this may very well be the longest Gettin' Skooled post in history...(which isn't really saying that much since I just started this blog a few months ago)

Last week, we "rowed" a book for the very first time!  If you are confused by the "row" part, you're not the only one.  Apparently, there is an entire subculture of homeschoolers who use The Five in a Row curriculum and are die hard about it.  "Rowing" simply means we used Five in a Row to study out one book for the entire week.

The book we chose to start with is The Rag Coat.  This is such a touching, touching story.  I'm pretty sure that even the Grinch's heart would grow an extra size if he read this book.  It is a story of a young girl who is very poor and can not go to school because she can not afford a coat.  Her mother's friends, the "Quilting Mothers",  decide to make her a coat out of their scraps.  There is so much more to this story, but I'll leave it at that for simplicity's sake.

There were three main parts of this book that we touched upon: the Appalachian region, coal mining, and quilting.  Some of the subtopics we discussed were the relationships within the book, forgiveness, and art.

Here are some of the things we did this week:

Merrick put together his USA puzzle to help him identify the states in which the Appalachian mountains lie.  

After putting together the puzzle, Merrick colored a map for his lapbook journal.  The printables for the lapbook were found here.  

Since I grew up in North Carolina, and have many memories of enjoying the Appalachian Mountains, I couldn't wait to learn more and share more about this region's culture with Merrick.  On Pandora, a free internet radio, we listened to some Appalachian music.  We also rented the movie Christie, which lasted for about 5 minutes before the kids ran off to play.  There were also several books in the library on Appalachian folktales.  I loved this one, The Pig Who Went Home on Sunday.  

This is basically the story of the 3 Little Pigs told in it's original Appalachian form.  What that means, basically, is that the 2 pigs that didn't make their homes out of brick were eaten.  No mercy!  At first when I read this, I thought it was a bit harsh for children.  But, upon reading the author's note, I realized the wisdom in the original story.  Long story short, when told in its original form, it is a great tool for teaching stranger danger, being aware and cautious when we are outside our home, and that one should obey his mother (you know I like any book that teaches my kids to show a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t!).  

While discussing the Appalachians, we also made our own compass to reinforce learning about North, East, South, and West.  

One of the suggestions in the Five in a Row curriculum, was to make one of these little thingys.  I'm not sure what this is called.  It's basically just a circle of nails in a board.  Merrick was able to use rubber bands to build about any shape we could think of.  I used the info here to remind myself of the different polygons.  

To make the board, I just used a leftover scrap of MDF I had in the garage and painted it red (Merrick's favorite color).  I traced a plate to make a circle, then hammered in 3/4 inch nails around the perimeter of the circle.

Merrick has a blast with this board.  I love the fact that it will come in handy for future math discussions as well.

Coincidently, our bible story during this week was about Joseph and his coat of many colors.  I think many would call this a "godcidence" instead of a "coincidence."  This was perfect.  Joseph and his coat are actually mentioned in the book The Rag Coat.  Merrick's face lit up when he recognized the reference!

Learning about coal mining was one of Merrick favorite parts of the week.  Here are the two supplemental library books that were most helpful to us in learning about coal:

For fun, Merrick and I went coal mining under our breakfast area.  We got the idea here from my favorite homeschooling blog, Satori Smiles.  

Merrick went nuts all week over his coal mining hat (which was basically just a flashlight taped to the top of my rarely used snowboarding helmet).  He even wore it sitting in bed reading:

Merrick wanted to play "coal mining" over and over again.  We did just like we read on Satori Smiles with a few exceptions.  I turned the breakfast table and chairs into our "mine"...

We made three different types of coal (recipe also from Satori Smiles) each worth different points.  The lignite, or soft coal, was worth one point.  The hard coals, bituminous and antracite, were worth ten and one hundred respectively.

We turned out all the lights and drew the shades.  I hid the pieces of "coal" under the table and Merrick had 3 minutes to find as many as possible.  Believe it or not, it was a pretty decent challenge in the dark to find that dark coal.

After the 3 minutes was up, he had to line the pieces of coal up according to its point value. 

This was a great way to teach Merrick place value (hundreds, tens, ones).  He caught on right away.

We also made coal cookies.  Originally, I wasn't going to make these.  I thought it was just a fancy excuse to eat tons of sugar (not that I need an excuse to eat tons of sugar).  But, once I read that it was a good way to teach kids how coal was formed, I was in.  

Recipe found here.  


Lastly, and to my great joy, we discussed quilting.  As I love to sew, I was thrilled about this aspect of the book.  I started off my showing Merrick the quilts in our home, including a couple that were made for him when he was born.

Here is a quilt that I made for Sawyer, my boy twin, when he was born.

Merrick was three years old at the time.  For one of the patches, I traced his hand and had him draw on the fabric a bit.  

Of course, we had to take a few photos together.  :)

Naturally, Merrick can not get in front of a camera without making a goofy face.  

To help teach him about quilting, we made our own little rag quilted pillowtop.  Merrick and I went through lots of his old baby clothes as well as his dad's baby clothes.  We chose a few pieces that we felt were appropriate to cut up, and put them in the pillowtop.  We also used lots of my scrap fabric (yeah, gotta love getting rid of scraps!)  I did the cutting and sewing.  Merrick helped me baste.  

While I was on the sewing machine, Merrick went back to work making shapes.  I encouraged him to make polygons.  He ended up with pac-mans and funny looking duck things.

After two days of cutting, sewing, basting, and more sewing, we had our pillowcase.  

There are pieces of my husbands baby clothes and baby blanket in there.  There is also a piece from a onesie Merrick worn when he was a few days old in the hospital.  And, a piece from a shirt he used to wear all the time when he was two years old.  Also, a piece from a onesie I made for him when he was a newborn.

I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite things in our entire home (yes, I am a sentimental sap).  See the little red sailboat in the middle?  That's from a tiny shirt my husband wore when he was an infant!  

And, of course, the lapbook...

I definitely, definitely enjoying this kind of learning.  It was a really great and much needed break from the workbook kind of learning we had been doing in recent weeks.  Though I don't think we'll do this every week, I'm going to shoot for rowing at least 2 books a month.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bible Lessons

One of my favorite times of the day is sitting down and doing a Bible lesson with Merrick.  These times really mean a lot to me.  

Initially, we started off using a free online curriculum from God's Hand in Our Lives.  GHIOL has been so helpful because it is broken up into stories within the Old and New Testament and then broken up into levels for different age groups.  I would simply give Merrick (and Scout and Sawyer if they weren't off breaking something) the coloring page while I read the Bible story.

Pretty soon, I figured out that Merrick is not really into coloring so much.  He doesn't like any kind of busy work or worksheets.  He likes hands on activities.

It's also been helpful to visit Sunday School sites to get very simple activity ideas that reinforce our Bible story.  Here is Merrick building the Tower of Babel (or Tower of Bubble, as Merrick likes to call it) out of play-dough.

His favorite part of this activity, of course, was smashing it after building it.  What is it with boys and destroying things?

More recently, we've been simplifying our bible times even more.  I have been using this Bible (below), which is the bible told in stories.  This is the very same Bible my parents read to me when I was a little girl.  I remember sitting next to my Daddy every Thursday evening as he read us a story from this book.  After our Bible time, we had Little Ceasar's pizza and watched the Cosby Show.  :)

Merrick loves the illustrations in the book.  It really is beautifully done.  He pays such close attention (or, at least, better attention) when he sees a picture and gets to see the characters in the pictures.  I have been so, so impressed by his ability to remember the Bible story later in the day or even later in the week.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to education my son from home and to be able to teach them about the Bible.  I don't think I would have ever gone into such depth with our Bible story if we weren't homeschooling.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Books, books, books!

I love the library.  And, as much as I love to read, I can not believe we are now at the point where the 15 book limit is just not enough books!  And that is just books for the children (aka. no books for Mama!). 

Here's a little bit of what we've been reading lately in the Esparza household...

Two of our favorites from our last library trip are Follow the Line by Laura Ljungkvist and Book of Riddles by Bennett Cerfs.  Follow the Line had Merrick just intrigued.  The line starts at the beginning of the book and goes through each page.  I wish I would have taken a picture of the inside of the book to show you.  I seriously considered making a copy of some of the pages and hanging them on the playroom walls.  

This next book has started a new trend in the Esparza household.  Since we borrowed the Book of Riddles, which I picked up on a complete whim, we have borrowed several other riddle, rhyme, and knock-knock joke books.  I know these are not of much value to Merrick education, but they are great for reading practice.  He tore throw Book of Riddles page to page (reading it on his own).  

I also found a riddle and rhyme book that is great for listening.  Tonight, I had him close his eyes while I read the riddle/rhyme to him (each poem is about 3 - 4 paragraphs).  At the end of the rhyme, he has to guess what the poem is describing.  They are simple, but require him to listen and focus, which is just what he needs.

He had so much fun reading the jokes in this book.  His favorite was, "What is big and red and eats rocks?"  Answer, "A big, red rock eater."  He cracked up.  Most of the jokes go right over his head (typically they include a pun that only a grown up would understand), but he laughs his head off any way.

I love to use these books to encourage Merrick to read to his brother and sister.

What a great excuse for snuggle time.  Scout has gotten into the knock-knock jokes.  She's even memorized one.  Here's her version:

Scout: Kno-kno.
Me: Who's there?
Scout: Boo.
Me: Boo who?
Scout: Yabadaya no have to cry, ba-beeeee.

For our read aloud, we are tackling Mr. Popper's Penguins.  Sadly, I have to say that this book isn't really capturing Merrick's attention.  But, it's very short and an easy read, so we're sticking with it.  And, we may just go see/rent the movie when it's all said and done.  We'll see. 

We also tried listening to Five Children and It in the car.  However, that was a bit of a flop.  It's a little tough finding a good story for a little dude.  A lot of the read aloud lists I've seen around are a bit girlish.  

Any suggestions out there?  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Handwriting Exercises

One of Merrick's biggest struggles is his handwriting.  Though it may seem like a minor subject, it is a big one for me.  I love to write.  Just like I love to read.  And, I want to pass on the love of writing to Merrick.

Merrick is not super interested in filling out handwriting worksheets.  And, by "not super interested," I mean not interested at all.  So, to help reinforce his handwriting skills but still keep it fun at the same time, I've been trying to come up with different ways to learn and write his letters/numbers.

Here are a few handwriting activities that have worked...and a few that have not:

{Bake a Letter}

First, I poured some flour on the coutertops to practice writing letters.  However, this wasn't really a fun time for either me or Merrick.  Neither one of us likes getting our hands dirty.  :)

Then, we made some cookie dough.  I got a package of prepared dough and added just enough flour and eggs to make the dough for cut-out cookies.  By doing this, we were able to manipulate the cookie dough the way we would playdough.  However, the cookies definitely didn't taste as good.  

If I was smart, I would have made a cookie in the "U" shape and spelled out I <3 U.  

{Pasta Letters}
This was probably the most helpful handwriting activity we have done to date.  After reading this article, I realized that Merrick was thinking of writing his letters the way one would think of making art: abstractly.  Instead, I needed to teach him that every letter is made up of either a stick or a ball (a straight line or curve).  I used a baseball and bat as references since he likes t-ball so much.

First, I typed out his name in a dashed font.  Then, I had him trace the letters in red marker (red is his current favorite color).  Next, I had him trace over the red letters in glue.  After each letter was covered in glue, we laid pasta down.  We used penne on the "stick" parts of each letter, and macaroni on the "ball" parts of the letter.  

{Crab Walk}

Apparently, this is an exercise that helps build the muscles in the hand needed for writing.  Merrick didn't know that and he didn't care.  He just enjoyed smokin' his brother and sister in the crab walk.  I even let him get the best of me a few times.  Yes, I threw the win.  Sadly, no one was accepting bets on crab walk race, so I made no money on betting against myself.  

I loved how Scout and Sawyer were just as excited about this game.  Precious Sawyer just scooted on his little diaper bottom across the floor.  Next time we play this game, I think I'll strap a sponge to his bottom...the kids strengthen their writing muscles and I get a clean floor.  Bonus!

{Color Water Relay}

I can't remember where I first saw this activity.  Probably Pinterest.  Similar to the activity above, this game is supposed to strengthen writing muscles.  Truthfully, I have no idea what special muscles are needed for writing (unless "the ones in your hand" count as an answer).  So, I'm just trusting that these internet folks are right and that my son will become totally buff in the handwriting muscle area.

However, if it's all a hoax, all is not lost.  We've definitely had a lot of fun playing these games.

Here's what we did for the Color Water Relay.  It was very simple.  First, I filled a pitcher with water.  I put several drops of blue food coloring to tint the water blue.  Next, I got together a couple of large sponges and two more plastic containers.  I put tons of yellow food coloring drops in one container, and red food coloring in the other.

Here's the game: placing the water pitcher on one side of the lawn and the plastic containers on the other side, put your sponge into the blue water, then run to your respective container and squeeze the water into it.  Whoever has the most water in her/his plastic container at the end of one or two minutes, wins.

Naturally, Merrick won.

As you can see, our poor lawn and vegetable garden are suffering due to the drought in Texas.  Please pray for rain in Texas!

The little twist to the game is that though both Merrick and I squeezed blue water into our plastic containers, we both ended up with different colored water (due to the yellow and red food coloring, of course).  An added bonus - we got to talk about mixing colors!

Sweet Scout wanted to get into the action as well.  I love this picture below.  She would let go her of "letter purse" in order to play.  She found this little plastic purse with magnet letters inside my Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.  She and Sawyer both love playing with those letters.  

{The Magic Glitter Bag}

Remember how I said some of the handwriting activities bombed?  Yeah...that would be this one.  A total dud.  I found this idea off Pinterest.  It seemed like such a good idea.  

Fill a gallon plastic bag with hair gel and glitter, then try to practice writing your letters.  For some reason, the logistics of this just didn't...gel.  It was difficult to see the letters you were writing.  And, you had to "write" it with just the very, very tip of your finger, which is difficult for a 5 year old.

Merrick was not thrilled, as you can possibly tell from the picture below.  Yeah...this goes on the list of what NOT to do with hair gel.  (I'm sure there's a list like that out there somewhere.)

{Jello Writing}

Obviously, the gel bag below was missing a key ingrediant - an "o" at the end!

Magic Glitter Bag was a complete bomb, but Jello Writing was 'da bomb!  This is probably one of Merrick's favorite things that we've done in our entire 3 week homeschooling experience (that's a long time, I know).  

Soooo simple: make some chocolate jello, spread it out on a cookie sheet, then practice writing letters!  We used the Handwriting Without Tears letter sheets to remind ourselves the proper way to write each letter.  Going through the entire alphabet (including rewriting some letters written incorrectly) was no problem at all because Merrick got to lick his finger in between each letter!

After writing the alphabet with his finger, Merrick found it was even more fun to write letters with his mouth...

...which naturally turned into Mama drawing mustaches on his face.  

Hola.  My name is Don Juan Chocolate 'Stache. lovely flower.  I want to inhale your love the way I just inhaled 2 pounds of chocolate jello."  

So...what are your favorite handwriting activities?