Teaching Scooter to Read: A Cautionary Tale

For the 8th time in my life, I am embarking upon the initially impossible task of teaching a young child to read.  Not memorizing, but actually decoding the letters into real sounds and real words with meaning.  I will be honest. It is daunting.

We began months ago with rhyming words and consonant recognition.  This initial step was successful but we were not able to make much headway, so like a good progressive mommy, I gave Scooter time off to grow and develop.

Months later, as we were preparing for Kindergarten, I was called into the new school’s office for a “special” meeting.

“We are delighted to be offering Scooter a spot in our school,” the earnest headmistress assured me. “However, Mrs. Happymess, it has come to our attention that he may need some assistance learning to read…”

“Oh, of course, Miss Headmistress,” I smiling assured the brusque woman addressing me, “I can certainly help Scooter as he prepares for Kindergarten.”

Well, since those fateful words have been spoken, Scooter and I have used every learn-to-read program I can find, and we are still just mastering the consonant sounds.

To be sure, Scooter, as Dr. Seuss says, “Can read little words, little words like if and it.”  Actually, he can read Mat, Pan, Can, Jam, And, The End.  That’s about it, and I generally put that skill set into the memorizing rather than decoding box.

So when my husband and I recently went to Parents Night at Scooter’s school and were asked to write him a note, I struggled to compose one that I thought he could read.  It went something like this,

Dear Scooter,

I can see you like school.  We can be sad to miss you.  And do you like to eat jam with no ants?  Me too.  The End.

My husband was quite mystified.

“What the heck kind of note is that to write?”  He asked suspiciously.

“One he can read,” I answered defensively.

And there you have it.  Months and days and hours of effort and still we are learning the same lesson each day.

Our pediatrician smiled wisely and said, “They all develop at different times and there is no point trying to teach them beyond their capabilities.”  Truer words were never spoken, and yet she may not be acquainted with my tenacious tendencies.

Scooter is not without his charm.  In this picture he has copied the Bob Book cover and carefully written “Pre-Reading Skills,” not withstanding the fact that he has no idea what that actually means.

 My favorite learn-to-read books have always been the Bob Books.  They are simple, uncomplicated and truly tell a viable tale with very few letters.  Each story adds just one or two new words and your child will soon be able to gain confidence “reading” these short stories.

Once Scooter can read approximately 20 – 30 words I will begin to “write” my own little stories for him to read.  For me, this is always the really “fun” time in a child’s reading development.  They love reading the little, silly stories about themselves, their friends and family.  We are definitely not there yet.

This year, owing to needing additional material for Scooter, I have used Hooked On Phonics Pre-K and Kindergarten levels 1 and 2.  These are nice sets, easy to use and quite appealing.  Scooter enjoys the words and graphics.

Scooter loves interaction.  He is fascinated with the “sounds” this computerized D for Dinosaur makes.  I am wondering, Who is that knows what a dinosaur sounds like?  Scooter enjoys the “Dinosaur Dance.”

 I have also found some great FREE online reading programs.  My absolute favorite is Starfall.  www.starfall.com

This program offers a complete introduction to the alphabet, beginning word construction Pan, Can, Fan, etc. and then small stories using each new word and sound set.  Additionally, Starfall has some very nice introductory number and math programs.

 There are countless electronic learn-to-read programs but it still always comes back to the basics.  Words and Books.  After all our lessons, Scooter and I return to the basics of reading together.

 Scooter loves stories and I show him how the words I am reading are right there on the page.  Ultimately, I evaluate his reading skills based upon true decoding.  Can Scooter read a new word in a new context because he can sound out the letters and recognize the word?  Can he read a story and understand the meaning?  We are still a long way from success but I am confident we will get there.  Meanwhile, Scooter is learning that I love him and I love words and together we are loving the words that make up the stories that we always enjoy reading together.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the opportunity to practice eternal patience.  For each child, it is their first beginning. 

History: The Timeless Gift

A quick History lesson from Pulitzer Prize winner, David McCullough,

Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it.  Jefferson, Adams, Washington- they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?”  They lived in the present just as we do.  The difference was it was their present, not ours.  And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either.

 In a 2005 speech, David McCullough makes the point that “history” happens to the everyday man and woman.  What makes the story interesting, and thus memorable, is the way the people respond to the events of their time.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Character is Destiny,” and McCullough makes the case that our Founding Fathers’ biggest attribute was their character.

McCullough encourages the teaching of history to ensure that we, the current occupants of this world, value the gifts we have been given by our predecessors.

He says, “We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed.  This is essential.  We have to value what our forebears did for us, or we are not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away.”

McCullough offers this analogy, “If you’ve inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune, and you don’t even know that it is a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you are going to lose it.”

Thus our precious Democracy will go by the wayside if we fail to teach our young students the value of freedom and personal liberty.  It becomes our responsibility as teachers, parents, and educators to instill a love of our Nation and an appreciation for the sacrifices that have afforded our freedoms.

One of our favorite books for the young historian. 

Our Happymess kids love history.  We strive to make every century seem relevant and interesting.  We use countless sources from illustrated children’s books, colorful atlases, ancient maps, primary sources, personal diaries, illustrated encyclopedias and dense historical dissertations.  We love documentary films, old newsreels and historical novels.  History is the story, our story.  And thus we were very gratified to find a perfect endorsement of homeschool-style teaching in the middle of McCullough’s presentation.

The original flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner national anthem. We visited this last year in Washington, DC.

And we need not leave the whole job of history teaching to the teachers.  The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home.  We who are parents or grandparents should be taking our children to historic sites.  We should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us.  We should be talking about what it was like when we were growing up in the olden days.  Children, particularly little children, love this.  And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level…they can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away.  The very important truth is that they want to learn and they can be taught anything.  And there’s no secret to teaching history or making history interesting.  Tell stories.  That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story?  E.M. Foster gave a wonderful definition of it:  If I say to you, the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say, the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human.  That calls for empathy.  And we ought to be growing, encouraging and developing historians who have heart and empathy.

I wonder if McCullough knew he was actually accurately describing the homeschool movement and our emphasis on multi-disciplinary, multi-generational and multi-cultural education, all with the purpose of “making it feel real” and thus instilling empathy for all.

We are grateful for today’s history lesson, which was a portion of Lesson One from Exploring America, a homeschool curriculum designed by John Notgrass. We have used this program before and really love it.  Notgrass has written text, quizzes, short-answer questions and essay questions, which cover the myriad facts that together comprise our national history.  The companion volume, American Voices, is an amalgamated 400 pages of primary sources. Through these speeches, letters, poems and essays the student of American History can live and breathe the very words of the Americans who built our nation.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is bringing the past to life though original documents and mementoes. 

The Calm Before the Storm or Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

The really and truly beginning of school has begun.  All the plans are behind us and now our efforts will be transformed into hard facts:  some successful, some not-so-successful.

I am awake at dawn so I can savor a few minutes of quiet.  At this exact minute everything is clean, organized and well, sort of perfect:  perfectly quiet.

Like stockings which are hung by the chimney with care, our books and our schoolwork are quietly waiting, the ensuing chaos as inevitable as Christmas morning.

This may be heaven but it is certainly not homeschooling.

Our homeschooling family, when it awakes, will be loud, boisterous, obstreperous, untidy, demanding and…most of all, excited to start the new school year.

 

 

Wait a minute, I think I hear them now!

In actuality, our first few days of school have been rewardingly peaceful, organized and productive.   Whew!

We are, so far successfully, using Debra Bell’s student planners.  I met with each student in my new “office.”  They loved having private time in a comfortable space.  We established individual goals, both personal and academic.  Then each student completed their planner with subjects and specific assignments due for each day of the next several weeks.  At first they felt that this was double work, writing down the assignments as well as completing them.  Imagine!  However, now they are gratefully ticking off their tasks and calling me to, “hurry up and come sign off on my assignment!” each time something is done.  This simple system provides me with plenty of checkpoints to both supervise and review their work.  Happily, it seems to be fostering independence and task completion as well.

Bounce is hard at work on Saxon Math 5/4 this year.   I recently discovered a great (free) program called Big Brainz, http://www.bigbrainz.com. This three-dimensional game reinforces multiplication and division facts while exploring castles and dungeons populated with monsters and dinosaurs.  Bounce elected to use his break to play this game.  It is the best one of its kind that I have seen.

Truth began by reading A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  He was suspicious of this book because others had already read it.  What made us think that he would like it?  He will now freely admit that he is really enjoying the book.

My first days also included attending a parent orientation to Stanford University’s Online High School.  This school represents true diversity (as opposed to “manufactured diversity”) in its student population.

Like many traditional families, we began school with a haircut, straight out of the 1950’s.  Here is Scooter, getting his haircut by the same barber who cut his father’s hair on his first day of school.

Scooter has now officially started Kindergarten, which he is attending at a local school.  I love teaching kindergarten, but I also appreciate the advantages of structure and discipline, especially the first few years.

Scooter feels like a big boy as he gets on the school bus (all by himself!) each morning, leaving all his big brothers behind.

Scooter waves Good-Bye!

And thus the adventure begins…

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is each of us doing what works best for ourselves, while maintaining our family and community centered lifestyle. 

The Well-Scheduled Life: An Exercise in Liberation

It is that time again, the time when structure yields freedom.  Or when freedom must yield to structure.

All through our long, wonderful and carefree summer, I have been planning and organizing.   I have cleaned our schoolroom, filed our papers and redistributed the books.  I have reviewed various programs, met with my fellow homeschool mothers and debated the merits and pitfalls of specific options.  Finally the choices were made, the new books ordered, the desks cleaned one last time.   Each week as I became more enamored with summer, I have found myself relentlessly marching toward fall.

This year I am using Debra Bell’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner as my personal support system.  I love the way this book encourages me to plan for the year, establishing academic and personal goals for every member of the family.  Each goal is then broken into bite-sized pieces and redistributed across the weeks.  Debra has built in discussion times (2x/week!) with each child to review goals and encourage progress.  This system really guides our family to work both together and independently to achieve our goals.

A favorite friend, visiting from Paris, helped to organize my best intentions into a scheduled reality.  With some input from myself, and the Happymess students, she came up with a schedule that seems to work.  The kids are happy to know exactly what is expected of them and I am glad to see all the key subjects making a permanent appearance on the daily schedule.

Miraculously, I have been given the most amazing gift:  a private study.  This previously unusable and cluttered space has been transformed with navy paint and donated furniture.  Happymess kids are as happy as I am that we will now have a quiet place for private discussions, goal setting and frustration resolution.

And so, as we march inexorably toward September, we have cleaned, planned, arranged and scheduled.  We are up to the challenge and excited to begin anew.  A well-organized homeschool liberates our minds and souls to pursue higher learning and personal dreams.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding that structure can set us free.

So Long Sweet Summer, So Long…

Summer is our favorite season.  The weather is warm and wild and thus prohibitive of difficult endeavors.  Freedom reigns.

Each person is free, like the wildflowers, to grow in any direction and to follow the sunshine of their dreams.

Happymess kids begin the summer with a trip to the zoo and a greenhouse.

The plastic gorilla is even more fun!

The Fourth of July was shared with friends and family.  Watching shards of light sparkle and reflect across the ocean waves is spectacular.

This summer Scooter got his first set of wheels.  He is finally able to ride to the library, church, candy store and beach with his brothers!  This is surely the high point of Scooter’s summer.

For the first time, Truth and Quantum left home to spend a week living in the woods.  We missed them, but loved coming up for the closing bonfire.

Athena traveled most of this summer.  We did manage to catch up with her long enough to enjoy kayaking on the lake together.

Oddly, perhaps, most of our summer was spent reading.

We read long, complicated historical novels like Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and fun, short books like Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown.  We read intriguing children’s books like A Single Shard by Sue Parks and we read Bob Books as we struggled to teach Scooter some basic reading skills.

One of our favorite activities is the Library Summer Reading Program.  Bounce and Scooter race to the library everyday to record the new number of hours they read.  They average 2-3 hours per day.

We allow Scooter to count his pre-reading activities towards his reading total.

One of the fun aspects of summer is that everyone enjoys the whimsy.  Here is the ceiling of our favorite summer diner.

Bounce loves art.  I am not a big fan of scraping paint off the floor so summer and art and I are best friends.  Bounce created an outdoor studio where he can paint whenever he likes.

 

As summer comes to its inevitable end, I begin organizing, arranging and planning for the unsentimental months ahead.  Here we have all the un-owned shoes looking for new feet so they can attend school next month.  I managed to find several pairs each for Bounce and Scooter.

And so the month of August draws to a close and we must finally say, “So long sweet summer.”  What a wonderful interlude it has been.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the freedom to dream, create and cherish the unscheduled and the free.

Wood Works!

Our Destination Imagination team has been struggling with the technical difficulty of joining three 4’X8’  very HEAVY boards together into one unit and creating a platform on which the three boards can spin freely during their theatrical performance.  If you have been following the story you may remember that during their State competition the boards collapsed on the actors who then had to hold them up, with a smile, for the rest of the performance.  Now our team will be exhibiting their project in a local gallery.  This time the boards cannot fall down!

Frustrated with all their previous efforts, the boys are now getting serious.

They have borrowed a friends wood shop and are finally using the correct tools. (Previous efforts included trying to hot glue the boards into place!)

Math skills are actually useful!  Who knew?

Destination Imagination:  It is possible to learn a new skill and be successful!

And now for the real test.  Truth and Quantum have built a beautifully engineered base and top.  Will it fit the boards?  Will it be stable? Will it rotate?  Can the team actually put the whole thing together?  The anxiety level is high.

It works!  The boards are upright.  Quantum is afraid to .move.

Kimono of 1000 Cranes:  Dressed for Success!

Team I.C.E. (Imagine, Create, Empower) is ready for their first gallery opening, Kimono of 1000 Cranes.  It is very exciting to see all their wonderful backdrops and props on exhibit with other works of art.

Oh!  And don’t forget the famous Can-Can dancers!  They have a starring role as well.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is watching your children start with a dream, struggle through successes and failures and finally share their dreams with the world.

Word for Word: Scrabble Nationals

Happymess has just returned from the excitement of participating in this year’s Word Whirlwind, otherwise known as the National School Scrabble Championships (N.S.S.C.).

This year’s competition was held in Orlando, Florida.  Universal Studios provided a great background for Giant Ambitions.

Quantum joined a local library Scrabble club this year and discovered that he really enjoys both words and strategy.  After months of studying and extensive time playing, Quatum and his teammate are ready for the big time:  Scrabble Nationals.

Here they will meet their matches, literally.  Children grades 4-8 are arriving, Scrabble boards in tow, from all over the U.S. and Canada.  It will be two days of tension on the high seas of words.

Almost immediately, as the kids arrive, they unpack their boards and tiles and begin to play.  There are Scrabble games in the hallways, on the floor, in spare meeting rooms.  These kids love playing Scrabble.  School Scrabble is a team sport and the kids are eager to try their skills against one another.  There is a real sense of camaraderie amongst these verbose and competitive kids.

But finally, the real competition must begin.  Teams “square up” and check “distribution” to ensure that they have the correct number of every tile.  These kids keep careful track of each tile that is played and they are keenly aware of what tiles their opponents may hold on their “rack.”

The Number 1 ranked team starts off the day winning a $100 prize for a 104-point word:  ficklest.  Let the games begin.

Each team is allocated 25 total minutes of playing time.  Once the games begin there is almost totally silence.  Partners confer with one another through whispers and gestures.  They rely upon one another to find “bingos (8+ letter words) and to spot “phonies” (false words played by opponents).

The all-important leader board consumes the attention of team members.  As each team completes their round the placements are shifted.  Teams eagerly wait to see where they are placed, to view their “spread” (cumulative points won) and to determine the ranking of their next opponent.

The evening of Day One is spent at an ice cream party and, you guessed it, more games!  Word-crazy kids play a series of board games, but Scrabble continues to be the most popular.  In this more casual environment, kids pick their own partners and opponents.  It is an opportunity for the novice to challenge the leaders.

Famous Scrabble Masters are on hand to share their wisdom and love of the game. Joe Edley, author of Everything Scrabble, is closely watched by a group of Scrabble students.  He shares some secrets.  The School Scrabble Champions are eager to try to beat him.

Day Two brings many more rounds of Scrabble and the competition for the very top slot is getting fierce.  A single careless error can be costly.

Quantum and his teammate have finished their final game.  They are ranked number 20, with an impressive spread of +282.   After two days of Scrabble against some tough players they feel very satisfied.

Now it is time for the final round.  This game is played between the Number 1 and the Number 2 team to determine the final ranking.  The game will be played in a separate room but the play will be filmed and projected live in a special theater.

We all pile in eagerly to watch and to shout advice from our seats, which the actual players cannot hear.

The National Champions for 2012 are announced.  This team is a pair of 8th graders who won this same championship when they were in 5th grade!

This has been a great weekend and a pleasure to watch hundreds of kids for whom the WORD is still sacred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is discovering a new world of people committed to the love of words.

Motivating the Student: Powering the Quest for Scientific Knowledge

Motivating young students to search for difficult answers to complex scientific questions can seem like an insurmountable challenge.  HappyMess is sharing a detailed synopsis of our Solar Energy curriculum because we really saw an evolution in the minds of our young scientific team, The SolarNauts.

HappyMess has spent 9 months guiding a diverse group of 7 students through the process of scientific inquiry.  After reviewing our incremental steps we noticed that our success was partially due to the process.  Our team used a truly multi-disciplinary approach to arrive at their final goal:  a comprehensive (grade appropriate) understanding of the fundamentals of energy, solar energy in particular.  The steps are listed here in order of execution.

Competition The SolarNauts, our Elementary Destination Imagination team, are competing in the Science Challenge, The Solar Stage.  These (young) students are learning to do their own scientific research and writing, no easy task.  They are struggling to grasp concepts such as renewable vs. non-renewable energy sources, composition of fossil fuels, creation of electricity and the existential nature of energy itself.

The competition focuses their energies, gives them specific goals and really motivates the students.  They need to work as a team, be creative, scientifically accurate and be able to demonstrate their knowledge through a theatrical production.  They are motivated because it is fun to work as a group and they want to win.  These two factors make them determined to do their very best each time they are together.

Library We began our research the old-fashioned way, at the library.  The SolarNauts chose books on energy, renewable energy sources and experiments with light and electricity.  We read these books both as a group and individually.

Unexpected Favorite Book: The Day-Glo Brothers, by Chris Barton. This fascinating picture book tells the story of the Switzer brothers who, through a combination of hard luck and tenacity, discovered the chemical formula needed to create Day-Glo paint, thus changing the color of our world and leaving an indelible color imprint on the 1960’s.  We really recommend this book.  It is totally relevant, educational and motivating.  The Day-Glo Brothers shows how science can be entertaining, fun and useful in so many diverse ways.  It will change the way you look at color as it demonstrates the chemical changes that occur through exposure to sunlight.

Engineering Our next step in the process of scientific exploration was to attempt to build a solar powered toy car.  This task proved to be too difficult (delicate wiring to be done by tiny hands) but along the way the team was able to see for themselves how a solar panel would generate power which could travel through the wires to a small engine.  The solar powered engine moved gears, thus turning the wheels of the car, and causing it to “drive” across the floor.

Art As part of our understanding of light and illumination The SolarNauts created luminaries to experiment with the way light is displayed through color and how an image changes when it is lit by background and foreground lighting, seen in the light and seen in the dark.  To create the luminaries we used black card stock.  The children left the card stock “whole” but cut designs out from within the card stock, thus creating a negative space design.  They then filled the cutouts with tissue paper collages.  When the room is darkened and the luminaries are lit from behind only the tissue paper images are visible, thus creating a stained glass effect.  The results are quite striking and the kids were pleased.

Puppetry We studied shadow puppets as part of our further inquiry into light and illumination.  In this area our very Favorite Book is William and the Magic Ring by Laura Robinson, published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  This is more than a book.  It is actually a spiral bound theater for your home.  The book describes itself as, “a shadow casting bedtime story.”  It comes complete with a flashlight.  Each page is a board that creates a shadow image on the wall of a darkened room.  The story tells the tale of a boy who is frightened by the shadows in his room only to discover later that they were made by ordinary parts of his bedroom.   We read this book, in the dark, repeatedly.  Then we got out our black paper and scissors and made our own shadow puppets.  It was a great lesson on light and dark and storytelling with a surprise ending.

Discussion Our team discussed solar energy.  The information was complicated and definitely required repeated exposure.   When we were together we read our science books aloud.  Each student had the opportunity to explain the reading to one another.  We studied energy from multiple angles and it was clear the students were still only slightly grasping the complicated topic.  We had a long way to go.

Internet What science project would be complete without Internet research?  We found multiple interactive websites on both solar energy and electricity.  Our two favorite solar energy websites were http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=solar_home-basics and http://www.going-green-challenge.com/solar-energy-for-kids.html .

The electricity website we found most helpful was http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/gamesactivities/electricitycircuits.html .  This website allows students to build virtual electric circuits and turn lights off and on with the flip of a virtual switch.  The Internet proved to be a great resource for images of all sorts of solar powered vehicles and solar panels.  These images provided concrete pictures of both current and future solar technology and allowed our students to begin to visualize how the components of energy work together.  We were beginning to understand.

Power Point Presentation One of our (slightly older) team members created his own power point presentation to explain solar energy technology.  He then presented this information to the group, becoming a team teacher as well as a team member.  His confidence encouraged the other team members.  If he could learn it then so could they.  Our team returned to the Internet and began to excitedly find new images of solar technology and do further research on child-oriented science websites.  They were beginning to understand that the information existed and that they could find and understand it..

Interview One of our fathers has a career in the renewable energy sector and made himself available to discuss current solar technology. Our group came to understand the current limitations on use of solar power and solar panels.  They also were surprised to learn that their team “invention” of collecting photons in outer space and sending them to earth via solar energy beam was actually something that scientists are contemplating for the future!

Electric Circuitry One of our favorite tools for teaching about electricity and circuitry is the Snap Circuits set.  Bounce built countless small electronic devices from this set including a light, a doorbell and a little revolving helicopter that could spin and fly. This set really teaches the fundamentals of circuitry. You can follow the directions for building 100 projects or, as Bounce did, you can create your own projects once you understand the basics. Snap Circuits helped Bounce understand how the Electric Grid works.

Prototype Creation The SolarNauts designed the Beam Machine. This prototype of the future would be a working solar photon collecting station floating in outer space.  The Beam Machine would collect photons, convert them to thermal energy, then to electricity and ultimately send the electricity from the space station (Beam Machine) directly to earth’s electric grid via a high energy laser light beam.  They built their Beam Machine out of refrigerator boxes.  These boxes were covered with various recycled materials to create solar panels and photovoltaic cells.  Plastic water bottles turn water into steam, creating thermal energy.

Display Board At the center of the Beam Machine is a scientific display board. The team created this display board to demonstrate their understanding of current use of solar space technologies.  Many space stations currently collect photons to power their stations. Future technologies are anticipating the creation of “solar elevators” which will be able to transmit electricity from space to earth. The SolarNauts board highlights these ideas while also creating a clear portrayal of how their own design, the Beam Machine would work.  Team members later took this board to their respective schools and used it to teach other students about solar energy.

Field Trip No research project would be complete without a field trip. Our SolarNauts visited a local farm which is partially powered with solar energy. This farm uses solar panels to collect energy which is then converted to electricity. The farm typically creates about one third of its needed electricity. During the summer months the farm sometimes generates excess electricity.  Excess electricity is then sold to the electric company, through the electric grid.  The farm also uses solar power to create thermal energy to heat the solar hot water heater.

Eureka!  After months of studying, reading, discussing and building the kids finally understood!  They saw real solar panels, real electric panels, real thermal panels and they understood just how they all worked. The SolarNauts happily explained the science behind the hardware and the farmer was surprised by their knowledge.

This farm also creates its own biodiesel fuel from used vegetable oil.  The farmer gave a complete description of how he can power all his vehicles with old oil from restaurants’ French fry machines. The SolarNauts were very impressed that anything as disgusting as old vegetable oil could still be useful and good for the environment.

"I learned that chickens stink!"

 Of course, the best part of the trip was seeing all the animals.

 

Favorite Science Books After all our research and our many library books we finally stumbled upon our Favorite Energy Book, The Shocking Truth about Energy by Loreen Leedy.  If you read only one book on the subject it should be this one. The Shocking Truth about Energy is a captivating picture book that describes all the most salient scientific points in simple terms using appealing and educational illustrations. This small book told the whole story and reads like a bedtime story, not a book filled with “facts”.

Our second Favorite Science Book is Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun by Michael J. Caduto.  It gives simple explanations of complicated facts and is filled with surprising and simple experiments that will inspire your children.  Our favorite:  to better understand the impact of electricity in our modern world, Spend 24 Hours Without Using Electricity for Anything!  This is the type of simple experiment that has immediate meaning to children. Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun is filled with numerous, more complicated, but equally achievable experiments.  You and your students will certainly enjoy this book.

Writing Now it is time to put it all together. The competition actually calls for all this information to be put into the context of a theatrical presentation. That means writing a script. The SolarNauts divided this task with two members writing the script and a third member writing a theme song. Remaining members collaborated on an opening song to introduce the play and provide set up time. Writing the script required creatively integrating all the scientific knowledge while solving a fictional problem. We won’t tell you the whole plot here as we can’t reveal all our surprises while still competing, but the team managed to create a story which highlights the need for solar energy while also providing a solution to current solar energy inadequacies.

Mother Earth costumeTheater So now that the script is written and the team has learned all the words to the songs they are ready, almost.  SolarNauts now need to make their costumes, sets and props.  This is the fun part.  The team each made their own costumes, designing, gluing and examining themselves from every angle.  Everything they create must be done by themselves.  A component of this competition is that part of this play must be performed in the dark.  Yes, the dark.  The SolarNauts sprayed all the clothes with glow-in-the-dark paint so they would be visible in the dark. They covered lanterns with colored cellophane to create mood lighting. They used glow sticks and flashlights to illuminate their Beam Machine.  The youngest members of the team dressed in phosphorescent clothing and posed as “photons” while other orange-suited SolarNauts tried to “capture” them as an energy sources.  The play was ready to be performed.

Running down the road with the Beam Machine"We made it!"Teaching Our team never wants the final performance to be the dress rehearsal. With this in mind, rehearsing is a key component of the competition and performance process.  The SolarNauts received permission from the local nursery school to perform their play one time for each individual class.  After 6 performances, and many question and answer sessions The SolarNauts were set for the big time:  an evening parent performance to be followed by a pot-luck dinner party.  By this time The SolarNauts were confident in their performance and also articulate about their subject matter:  solar energy.

The 5 AM UHaul

State Competition The big day is finally here. But, are we worried?  Not a bit.  This team has researched, studied, learned, written, created, rehearsed and performed.  They re-glued a few broken props, did one trial run through of the performance and they were ready.  The stage was set and this time when the lights went off the team was truly in the DARK.  Their sets glowed, the flashlights illuminated the set and before we knew it the performance was flawlessly executed and the cast members were saying their final lines,  “We saved planet Earth just in TIME!”. Hooray!  Our goals are achieved.  The SolarNauts have really learned the material and are able to teach others!

SolarNauts discuss their Solution with AppraisersAnd The SolarNauts reached their goal! 

They are now this year’s State Champions!  Next stop Global Finals where they can compete with teams from around the world!

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is using as many different approaches as possible to allow our students to be inspired by their own education.

Destination Imagination: Splatter Paint Pollock Comes Alive!

The modern artist is working with space and time, expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.

Jackson Pollock

 

Our Destination Imagination Senior Level team is alive and well.  They paint, glue, sing, create and compose.  This year they are faced with the seemingly impossible challenge of creating a 4-minute thriller introducing the audience to multiple cultures and leaving us all hanging on the edge of our seats, literally.

Think this looks innocent enough?  Look again.  Team I.C.E (Imagine, Create, Empower) is just getting started.

One thing they are sure they want to share with us is their love of spontaneity.  The disorder in our house is a true testament to this endeavor.

As a final memento to their Destination Imagination experience they have created a video that encapsulates their team experience.  And what better way to show their love for one another than to splatter paint everywhere?

If you are brave you may want to check out their I.C.E Productions Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsNKW9ybrVE

This group has really formed a very supportive team.   They have their ups and downs but they are learning to resolve conflicts, make compromises and share both the limelight and their various talents.

What better way to make friends than to struggle with an international challenge, study art, culture and language; laugh, create and perform while also learning complex construction techniques and unusual improvisational styles?

This Destination Imagination team has truly learned so much this year.

Please leave your paintbrushes outside, if possible.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is not minding when your sink is multi-colored and so are your floors, walls, doors and clothes. 

Falling in Love…with Books

When the student is ready, the master appears. 
 – Buddhist Proverb

We have been reading to Bounce since birth.  He has chewed on books for breakfast, he has written on books at naptime, we have read countless stories at bedtime and finally, in Kindergarten he began to read them himself.  The process from beginning reader to, “I love this book and I can’t put it down until I have read every last word,” can take years.  During this time, like a sapling, the young reader must be constantly nourished and encouraged.

This school year, 3rd grade, I decided that my first priority for Bounce was learning to love reading.  If your student is a reader, with easy fluency, expansive vocabulary, and is endlessly enticed by the written word then, and only then, they can learn ANY subject.  Without the ability to read fluently, every subject is a struggle.

Bounce began the year as an adequate, steady but uninspired reader.  We took a multiple step approach.  My favorite way to develop early reading skills is through reading aloud.  When your child reads aloud you can really hear the words he/she knows and those they stumble over.  The child must also anticipate the story as they read so the inflection is correct.  Clear diction becomes necessary if others are to enjoy the story.

So how do we accomplish this in our busy household?  With the Greatest of Ease.

Bedtime on the top bunk Bounce is assigned to read all of Scooter’s bedtime stories, aloud, to Scooter.  Scooter and Bounce both love this system.  Scooter loves to pick out his favorite books and will happily choose 10 to 15 books for bedtime.  No self-possessed parent would be able to read 15 bedtime stories every night.  However, Bounce is happy to do all this reading.  The longer he reads, the longer they can both stay up.  The more books they read, the more time I have to get the rest of the family organized.  Everyone wins, Scooter learns to love stories and Bounce, well, he is just getting better and better at reading each night.

Don’t have a younger sibling handy? How about a neighbor or cousin?  Elementary school children can also read aloud at library programs designed for toddlers.  Ask your local librarian for suggestions.

Bounce and I also read You Read to Me, I Read to You books by, Mary Ann Hoberman.  These are perfect for developing readers as the words are slightly more complex but the rhyming couplets can help the reader “guess” difficult words.  These books are alternating read-alouds.  Parent and child can share the reading and enjoy the story together.

Meanwhile, I choose a more difficult book and read this aloud each night to Bounce.  The purpose of this book is to create interest in complex plot lines and encourage understanding of more sophisticated grammar and vocabulary.

This year we read Pinocchio:

https://homeschoolhappymess.com/2011/10/18/pinocchio-a-captivating-cautionary-tale-for-read-aloud-bedtime/

We have also read A Christmas Carol, unabridged, by Charles Dickens and Wind in the Willows, unabridged, by Kenneth Grahame.  I am NOT a fan of abridged books for children.  Abridged books discourage the later reading of the original book.

My suggestion:  If a child is not ready to read the original do NOT read a picture book version, do NOT read an abridged version and most definitely do NOT see the movie.

The child should have the joy of reading the real story when they are intellectually ready.  If they already know the plot of every story what will motivate them to struggle through a difficult text when they are older?

 Treasure Island is an excellent example.  The original version of this book, by Robert Louis Stevenson, uses challenging vocabulary and the story is presented in an unusual manner..  The story, however, about pirates and adventures at sea, is very exciting.  This is a book that is definitely worth the struggle.  The student who reads this book will be much better prepared to read other challenging material.

Surprisingly, another book that fits perfectly into this category is Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.  Many children have grown up watching the TV version of this book.  Few children have had the opportunity to enjoy the original.  This book, and the others written as sequels, utilize difficult vocabulary and is an excellent read-aloud book to encourage children to pay close attention to the story and to understand the meaning of words.

Another excellent series for developing word appreciation is Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter.  Children are captivated by the darling illustrations, but even more important is the fact that these little tales are literary gems.  Each story has a defined plot, clear moral and an unapologetic use of formal English.

So where are we now?  Bounce has irrevocable fallen in love…with reading.  He reads day and night and has progressed from the Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne, a great first “chapter book” series to Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, to Raold Dahl, the mainstay of the elementary school reading experience.  He has read Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvelous Medicine.   Currently he is reading an all-time favorite, Matilda.

Bounce says, “My favorite books to read are books about reading (Matilda)”

What better statement could I hope for?  I am thinking that soon he may be ready for Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.  This book is the ultimate children’s book about books.

For more on Learning to Love Literature by Happymess:

https://homeschoolhappymess.com/literature-art-is-the-looking-glass-through-which-we-see-our-lives/

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschool is teaching a love of books by reading books that are worth loving.