I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4


Monday, August 30, 2010


For some children in my family, math has been a breeze. For them, manipulatives were just a fun addition to a lesson, like a nice illustration in a book – nice but not essential. For Michelle, who is totally right-brained, math without manipulatives just doesn’t work. Putting dollar signs in front of numbers doesn’t look like money to her, fractions without an object to divide into parts are abstract concepts that seem unimportant and useless.

Twenty-one years ago, when I was pregnant with my first baby, I read a biography of Maria Montessori. I was fascinated by her story and what she discovered about the use of chunky letters and other manipulatives in the classroom. At the time, there was very little help for children with disabilities. She dedicated herself to helping young disabled children learn to read. My kids have never attended a Montessori school, but I believe that at least initially they were known for their success in teaching early reading and the use of manipulatives to teach younger children. These days, toy stores have lots of toys with letters and there are many options.

Letter magnets – tried and true. Simple letter magnets are inexpensive and work just as well as a fancy toddler-type computer. I’ve always kept letter magnets on my refrigerator, they’ve moved from one home to another. My toddlers would be kept entertained with them in the kitchen while I fixed meals, though I do remember the daily cleanup of letters off the floor. I tried to keep them stimulated and moving about, and the letters kept them busy and out of trouble for a few minutes.  Some of these are the same letters I bought for my daughter many ago, still in use today. When I went to take a picture of them, I was hoping there would be something interesting to see - I found a souvenir from a recent visit of one of our little friends who decided to leave her mark, love the “j”!

Cuisinaire Rods – Great for explaining arithmetic concepts, especially multiplication, division, and fractions. We have a couple of teacher guides with creative ideas on how to illustrate concepts, making letter and animal shapes… fun.

Lauri Pegs **– Can be used much like the rods, but they are a bit bigger in size and easier for younger kids to handle. My kids have used these to play all sorts of imaginative games. The pegs can be vegetables or people according to whatever catches their fancy. I remember Michael used them as Veggie Tales toys, several green ones piled up were Larry and Bob was one red peg. Emily wouldn’t dream of turning them into vegetables, to her they are people – the stacked up, tall ones are parents and the little ones are kids. After her work was done today, she knew she would get to play with the pegs. She was happy.

A Barrel of Monkeys – this is a great favorite,  they are a much cheaper option than some of the ones designed as manipulatives.

Lauri Puzzles **  my kids loved all of the foam-chunky puzzles this company produces.  This is just one of the ones we use. 

Cuisinaire Clock - I don't know if other companies make a clock like this one.  It really helps that it has the minutes printed in blue.  The hands are moveable, and it is pretty sturdy. It seems like math curriculum authors all have agreed that the hour hand should be red and the minute hand blue, at least I've always found that the clock pictures in our math worksheets all match with this clock.  It makes things easier when teaching time.

Beans & Grains – We’ve used them in the pre-k and kindergarten years for sorting and counting. They are wonderful for little ones to develop fine motor skills. I would use a hot glue gun to stick one of each type in individual cups – like the ones that come with children’s cold remedies.

Modeling Clay - Of course, there are many uses for this one.  I've always made big clay letters for pre-reading activities.  This really intrigued my kids, another way to motivate them to be interested in letters.

Fake and real money – playing shop is one of the best ways to teach money. I think I dimly recall doing that in kindergarten myself, forty years ago.

** I've linked the Lauri products I posted about to the My Father's World curriculum site. That's where we bought ours from, at the Florida homeschool convention.  I like their curriculum for Kindergarten and 1st grade.  Also, I don't receive anything from My Father's World or any other curriculum vendor.  Whatever I've listed is this is free advertising for them, just because I like their products. – making letters with modeling clay when my son was two years old, may be what ignited his unquenchable thirst for letters. By age three, he was reading fluently.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Organized School Room

After twelve years of homeschooling, we have accumulated a ton of school supplies, curricula, manipulatives, equipment, and books.  We have a school room that is bursting at the seams, overflowing into our family room, and that is not counting the many books which are scattered in bookshelves all over the house. 

Our school day goes along more smoothly if we all know where our things are, so we aren't wasting time looking for that assignment due or the read-aloud book we should have started on an hour ago.
The red lockers.  We have four of these, and the kids love them.  This is where they keep all their things.  It is an opportunity to teach organization.  I've given them containers for them to put their smaller things, folders, and paper trays.  We have a locker checks periodically, that keeps them motivated, and there's a reward for the best kept locker.
We got these cubicles at IKEA along with the red lockers.  We have two of them, this one is for our school stuff.  I like that we can keep some of the overflow supplies in boxes or baskets, out of sight, it helps make the family room more presentable.  Oh, and the green container you see on top is where the kids put their finished assignements for me to check each day.
This pie safe holds most of our school supplies - art, microscope, index cards...
I keep school manipulatives, markers, crayons and other items the kids need easy access to in these bins.
These shelves hold all the books we are using this year. One of those shelves is designated for library books.  Keeping those organized is key to avoiding late returns and library fines. But on top of those shelves... is the last frontier - UNsightly and UNorganized stash of science lab supplies and puzzles.  I am looking for any creative ideas to clear that space out, or at least make it more presentable.  I'm optimistic!

Mama to 3

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nature Journal - Spiders

Don found a spider this morning on his way back from milking our cow. I used the opportunity to have the girls come and check it out.
Black-and-yellow argiope
from Emily's nature journal (1st grade)
Michelle and Emily have been learning about spiders this week, reading from the Christian Liberty Press Science Readers. I really like these readers for early elementary natural science. The first one is just right for Emily(6), and the more advanced ones have comprehension questions that I can use with Michelle(8) to reinforce whatever concepts she is learning in her English lessons - punctuation, spelling, etc. But the thing we’ve enjoyed best has been nature journaling. I read several books about Charlotte Mason’s classical teaching methods when I first started homeschooling twelve years ago, and nature journaling was one of the ones that I adopted for the long run. The idea of going out in our own back yard and studying what God has created, first hand, is a great way to teach children about the wonders of His creation. There are a multitude of lessons to be found in nature about who the Creator is, why He made it all, why we are here…  The girls drew a picture of the spider, then they added their observations and what they learned about it.  I helped Emily by writing down what she said, so she could copy it correctly. 

We tried looking it up in our Field Guide of Florida, but they didn’t have this particular variety; so, we went to the internet and found what it was and that it is more commonly found in Texas. We also used another great internet tool I’ve been taking advantage of lately – You Tube! I love You Tube because it gives me quick access to short video clips about the lessons I’m teaching.

This one was about how a spider spins its web, and it answered Emily’s questions better than I could have described the process – a picture is worth a 1,000 words, and a good video… maybe more.

New Blog

I've finally decided to start a homeschooling blog.  It's an idea I've been contemplating for a few years.  I think what has finally convinced me is the thought that I really need a record of what I'm doing, and maybe others can use it too.

At the moment, I have Emily(6), Michelle(8), and Michael(13) at home.  Gabi(20) graduated two years ago.  She still lives at home and goes to the local University.  She goes there for free, having earned enough scholarships to pay for all of it including books and other expenses.  She hopes to one day have her own family and homeschool her children.  When I began homeschooling my kids, there weren't as many options and resources available as there are now, and we were considered strange by many.  Today, much has changed in that respect.  But, with more opportunities and resources available come more complicated choices.  Maybe this blog will help make some of those decisions a little easier.
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