Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lit-based Phonics Lessons

Literature Based Reading Lessons
This is an interesting website. Free literature based reading lessons with strong phonics emphasis. Put together by teachers at a Christian grade school.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Car Schooling: Books on Tape

Do you ever feel like you carschool instead of homeschool? I know that I have days when I feel like the children and I have spent more time on the road than in our home.

Take advantage of that car time. After all, your children are a captive audience. They can't go anywhere when you're driving.

One thing that we do is listen to books on tape. This week we have been listening to, and loving, Mary Poppins on tape.

Now to buy books on tape would cost a fortune. However, you may be able to get them free at the library. That's what I do.

It sure is a great way to make use of time that might otherwise be idle. (What's that old saying? Idle hands are the devil's work.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Re-Use Tip: Scrubby

In a pinch I've used the mesh bag that onions come in as a scrubby for my dishes. Just wad it up in a ball, hold it together with a rubberband if you wish, and you have a homemade scrubby.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Natural Learning: Science for Littles

In preparing a foundation upon which to build science skills, we must first ask ourselves "what is exactly is science." Science is so much more than the simple collection of facts. Science is about observation. Yes, we need to know basic facts such as the boiling point for water and that the earth is the third planet from the sun, but we also need to remember that those facts were first discovered by observation.

Young children love memorizing facts and so teaching them science facts such as the order of the planets, would be both fun and useful. But I encourage you to do more than that. Teach them observation skills.

There are four parts to observation:
Ask what is happening.
Predict what might happen.
Test your prediction.
Make sense of the results.

Science involves trial and error, it is a way of thinking. Children learn science best if they are encouraged to investigate and experiment. Young children love to see, to touch, to manipulate. They like to how things change.

When babies throw their plate off the highchair and onto the floor, they are not being bad, they are observing. They wonder what will happen if the plate goes over the edge. They may even be making a prediction. They test the prediction and then try to makes sense of the results. You might say that the are testing the theory of gravity. (Someone else may say that they are testing your patience)

In cooking, let children observe how the butter melts, how the texture of the bread dough is different from the finished loaf, or how vinegar curdles milk. Ask her why she thinks these things happen.

Take walks outdoors and observe the night sky. How does it change from day to night? From night to night? From season to season? Ask why he thinks these changes take place.

And none of this costs a penny.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Organizing Textbooks

A disorganized home does not lend itself to a good learning environment, nor does it lend itself to a thrifty home. If school books and equipment can't be located, then education is put hold while the search ensues. If a book is lost under the bed amid the dust bunnies, then the checkbook suffers when you have to replace said book.

A perfect example is my now-10-year-old son Joe, who is all male and therefore does not possess the homing gene that we moms carry. Joe lost his phonics book a few years ago. It was nowhere to be found in our home. Wondering if perhaps he had "lost" it on purpose to keep from having to do his work for the day, I told him that if I had to buy a new Explode the Code book, then he would have to start all over from the beginning. He wasn't too pleased at the thought of having to start all over on a workbook that was already nearly complete. Yet, the old workbook never showed up and after a few days of fruitless search we set off for the homeschool store to buy a new workbook.

After a few weeks, and after Joe was nearly complete with the new workbook, the old workbook showed up on a dusty old bookshelf. I realized that for this child, I needed to reorganize. Instead of designating separate shelves for separate subjects, I needed to designate a separate area for each child. Joe needed one space for everything. A simple concept, but one that I had not put into place before this incident. I found a nice little clear plastic magazine holder on sale at the office supply store and all of Joe's first grade workbooks fit in perfectly.

This system has worked beautifully over the past year. For the older children, magazine holders are not large enough for all of their books so they have metal bins (also picked up on clearance at the office supply store).

My friend Becky does something similar for all of her homeschooled children, from grade school to high school. She took cardboard boxes, decorated them with contact paper, and labeled them with each child's name. As school books are used they are pulled from the boxes and then returned before a new book is pulled.

My friend Terri uses wicker baskets in a similar fashion. The baskets line up along the window seat in her dining room. They are not only functional, but attractive.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Find It on the Map

Here is a thrifty, yet nifty, way to reinforce geography for littles.

Learn geography through the mail by means of postcards. Have friends, family, and Internet contacts send postcards from their hometown, field trips, and vacations to your children.

Hang up a big map of the U.S. in your home. When a postcard comes, find it's origin on the map and mark it with a pin. Or, you could hole punch the postcard, tie yarn through the hole, and then tack it to the state or city from which it came.

Try to get postcards from all 50 states. If you're ambitious, go global and set up a world map. And make sure that you reciprocate by sending out your own postcards.

The added bonus is that you stay in contact with all your loved ones.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Saving on Music Lessons: Performance Groups

Are you looking for a way to give your children music instruction without forking out the big bucks for a private teacher and a baby grand piano? One way to do that is to join a performance group. The first place to look would be your church. If you have a good music director, your child can learn quite a bit by joining the children's choir. Also look to your homeschool friends. Many homeschool support groups are forming bands and orchestras.

My children belong to a small performance group - The Renaissance Singers. Several years ago, when we were studying the Renaissance, my friend Becky asked if my children would be interested in joining the group along with her children. I told Becky that it sounded wonderful, but my children had no previous experience in music. Though our homeschool was dripping in music appreciation, music instruction was pretty much ignored. (Boy, do I feel like the bad homeschool mommy writing that out.)

Becky told me that was okay, the music director of the group was willing to work with the children and they would learn music as they went along. Wow, no kidding!

I accompanied my children to the first lesson. I expected nursery rhymes and simplistic pieces. I sat there the entire hour with my mouth wide open as the children were asked to sing a song not only in French, but in three-part harmony. As we drove away from the director's home, I braced myself for a flood of complaints. I was in for a surprise, as all of the children were thrilled and couldn't wait to return the next week. It's true, children do rise to high expectations!

We are now heading into our third year with this group. In that time, my children have learned how to read music, play recorders, and perform Renaissance dances. They dress in period clothes sewn by the music director's husband (he has also created costumes for the Smithsonian Institute!). And the only expense has been for the children's recorders, which cost very little.

So, if you feel the pull to introduce your children to some practical music instruction, start asking around as well as praying over the situation. You never know what you will find!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Natural Learning - Preschool/Kindergarten Math

Some homeschoolers prefer a structured curriculum for preschool and kindergarten. Me? I prefer to hold off on formal academics until first grade. This is what works best for our family structure.

Every family is different and so every homeschool is different. In our homeschool, I do not feel that my children are left behind by putting off formal academics. Little children are so curious that learning comes quite naturally. In fact, they learn simply through their play.

That doesn't mean to ignore wee ones and their learning. Instead take joy in playing with them and learning beside them. Look for those teachable moments.

If you are in the McDonald's drive-thru (and surely, being thrifty, you are only there because of an emergency and you are NOT ordering Happy Meals) ask your wee ones how many chicken nuggets they are going to get after they share the 20-piece box with the rest of the family.

Look for connect-the-dot and maze books at the grocery store. They are inexpensive and kids love them. Connecting the dots teach sequencing. Solving mazes teaches children to look several steps ahead - an important concept in higher mathematics.

Simple blocks and wooden puzzles will help with shape recognition. Don't be afraid to get on the floor with your child and a mess of blocks. As you build together, point out the names of shapes. Search your house for shapes - the round pie pan, the rectangular aquarium, the square computer monitor, etc.

Cooking with little ones offers many opportunities for building math skills. I might say, "I need to divide this bread dough into 2 parts," or "We have to roll this pastry out to nine inches." Let them measure out ingredients or help double a recipe.

More important than anything, give your child lots of time to play. Children naturally explore and create. Play gives them opportunities to solve problems, learn about physics, shapes, and building foundations.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Re-Use Tip: Parmesan Cheese Shakers

My motto is "Why recycle when you can re-use!"

Do you have trouble keeping crayons organized? If so, here is simple littletip. You know those plastic parmesan cheese shakers? Well, they can be used as crayon holders. Littles can pop up the shaker opening and shake out their crayons. Then when they are done coloring, they can unscrew the top and put away the crayons.

It works quite nicely.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Grocery Tip 8: Warehouse Clubs

Just as coupons can work against you or in your favor, depending on how you use them, so goes warehouse clubs. If you throw caution to the wind, you could really blow a wad of money at Sam's or Costco. However, with a little smarts you can save a bundle instead.

First, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions:
If I have 100 rolls of paper towels stocked in the garage, and little Johnny spills an entire glass of milk on the floor, will I do the thrifty thing and use a rag to clean it up? Or will I use an entire roll of paper towels figuring that I will still have 99 left? If you chose the latter, then stay away from warehouse clubs.

Next question:
Will you be tempted to buy the 50 gallon jug of cheesy curls figuring that you can just plop those in front of the kiddies at snacktime instead of carrot and celery sticks? If the answer is yes, stop here and never step inside of a Sam's or Costco store.

Now, if you are still with me, make sure that you are stocking up on staples. Prepared, prepackaged foods cost too much at the warehouse store just as they cost too much at the grocery store.

Next, make sure that you are following all of our grocery tips at the warehouse club as you would at the grocery store. You still need to take a list to Sam's or Costco and stick to it, you still need to go on a full tummy, you still need to keep the kids in line, and so on.

There is a cost to join these clubs. See if your employer or spouse's employer offers free memberships. My husband is self-employed, but we have a free membership though one of his clients as dh takes care of this client's purchasing.

However, if we had to pay the membership fee, we would still save $$. For example, a 2 lb. bag of popcorn on sale at my grocery store costs $1.50. A 50 lb. bag at Sam's costs $10. This is a savings of $27.50. Now 50 lbs sounds like a lot, but if you have a large family like me it is not that much, plus I split it in half with another family. And you can just imagine the savings over buying microwave popcorn! Now I don't do all of my shopping at Sam's, I stop by Sam's about once every month.

Here is an article on the topic if you would like to read more:
ConsumerWatch - NBC 5 Special Report: Buying In Bulk

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Math for Littles and Calculators

Do you have an inexpensive calculator that rarely gets used? If you have little ones, you can put that calculator to use. Give it to your littles and let them have free reign in playing with it.

Children love to punch in the numbers and see what comes out. You can even keep it with their toys. Don't let them have a clue that it's educational.

By the time they get to school age, they will not only be comfortable with using the calculator, but will have figured out how to use it - all on their own and in a natural way.

The beauty on this is that it is an inexpensive trick that requires zero time from you as teacher.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

When Curriculum Fails

What do you do when an expensive curriculum program just isn't working? You hate to just toss it after spending half your school budget on it, but your children are complaining of being tortured by said program, and quite frankly they aren't learning a thing.

My advice? Get rid of it. Sometimes it is best to take the loss. Better to chalk it up to a lesson learned, than force something that is not working.

The good news is that you can get back some of your money by selling it. Just because it didn't work for you doesn't mean that it won't work for another family. Many local homeschool support groups and homeschooling conferences these days have used book sales where you may sell your curricula on consignment. Or you can try the many swap boards on the Internet. (see the sidebar for links)

The first year that I homeschooled someone gave me their phonics program Sing, Spell, Read, and Write - a very expensive program with audio tapes, games, and books. It was a dismal failure for my son. Even though I had obtained it free, it was hard for me to give it up as I knew how much money it cost. However, I finally let go and gave it to a friend who was able to implement it successfully in her homeschool.

And my son did learn to read, using a different, and cheaper, program.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Saving on Your Mortgage

Did you know that you can reduce a 30-year mortgage to 17 1/2 years by simply making one extra mortgage payment a year? This is because extra payments go right to the principle and thus cuts your interest dramatically. Some people do this by making a payment every four weeks instead of once a month. You could also make an extra payment at year end or if you get a big tax refund. The extra payment doesn't even have to be an exact mortgage payment, you can send more or less. Whatever you send goes straight to the principle. Sometimes you need to spend a little to save a lot.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Free HSLDA Trial Membership

If you have been wanting to join HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), now is the time. They are offering a six-month free trial through August 15, 2006. All the same benefits as a paid membership. Just click here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling

What is a Carnival of Homeschooling you ask. I was asking the same question last week. Click here to check out this week's Carnival.

Here's how it works. A different blogger hosts the Carnival each week. This week's host is Why Homeschool.

It's really a cool idea!

Lost Income and Real Costs

Check out this great blog post from The Imperfect Homeschooler:
The Opportunity Cost of Homeschooling

Monday, April 03, 2006

Grocery Tip #7: Use Caution in Clipping Coupons

Believe or not, there are times when coupon clipping can actually cause you to spend more money, rather than save money. Coupons can be a great thing, but you use a little extra common sense in choosing which coupons to clip.

If I see a coupon for a product that I normally buy, I clip it. Especially if it qualifies for my grocery store's double coupon special and that item is on sale! I have gotten grocery items for free this way, but that is rare.

I avoid coupons for expensive name brands or prepackaged foods like the plague. Even with a coupon, these items are usually more expensive than store-name brands and homemade meals.

So use caution in using coupons and make sure that you are actually saving money, not spending more, by clipping them.

Now lets review our grocery tips so far. In a nutshell, we can cut our grocery bill in half by preplanning:
1. preplan by making sure that you do not go to the store hungry
2. preplan in reminding children "no gimmees" before walking into the store
3. preplan by making a list - and sticking to it
4. preplan by making a menu
5. preplan by checking sales flyers for loss leaders and stock up
6. preplan for stressful days by using your crockpot or preparing a meal in advance

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Spring Forward

Don't forget to set your clocks up an hour when you go to bed tonight.