Monday, January 31, 2011

Our Work Space

A poster over at Secular Homeschool in this post asked to see pictures of fellow homeschoolers' work spaces. I love to see how other homeschoolers organize and create areas for education within the home. I always come away with ideas and inspiration. I know that for our family, we have a dedicated work area, but we often venture out of that area and into other parts of the home (namely the kitchen). That was especially true before I converted the playroom on our second level into a space dedicated to housing the things we use for homeschooling. One of the reasons we bought this home was this room and we know how lucky we are to have it! It was great as a playroom, but even better as our workspace. It's such a bright, sunny spot that we actually look forward to mornings spent in the room. But wandering still does occur - and is encouraged! At some point, I hope to get new furniture so that I can consolidate some things and have an area with some overstuffed chairs for reading. But it will have to wait... for now I'm really happy with the way things turned out!

I actually store some of our books in the hallway just outside the room
The first shelf houses novels, anthologies, ancient history and books on the middle ages.
The second shelf is home to (more) novels - especially books in a series, holiday books, picture books, & early modern history through today.

View from the doorway - we have an enormous timeline that goes along the top of the back wall

My middle two sit at the center table for the most part, but we often do our art projects, music, etc. at this table

This is my desk (messy!). The bookcase on the right holds more project supplies as well as some extra teaching resources that are not currently being used. The shelf on the left holds extra binders, books and manual that are currently being used, and behind the doors - extra paper and materials needed for projects throughout the year (it is not normally decorated for Chinese New Year - but it's a great spot to hang stuff like that!). Obviously, the bridging shelves hold even more of our books.  And one of the best things in this corner... the photocopier/printer and stand. Talk about well-used!

View from back corner - I use the back of the doors to hold our word books, calendar and 100s chart (mainly used for my 6-year old), and a white board - I really need a bigger white board and am in the process of figuring out where it would go.

The windows are all flanked with bookcases. The low bookcases are organized by subject. The tall bookcases are for books and curriculum in use by the kids. Each daughter has one of the bottom shelves. This becomes her "locker" (though we don't use that word) where she keeps her black holder (this holds all workbooks, reading books, etc., that she needs on a daily basis), her current binders, and anything else she wants to keep there (we have purses, dolls, crayons, etc., on these shelves). The top shelves hold the upcoming curriculum & books for each girl, and on the right-hand shelf, the middle shelves hold their assigned reading books for the year. The bookcases are also used to hold the girls' reading chains (they add a link for each assigned book with the title, author, and their rating). My youngest daughter usually sits at the round table in the corner - she likes to spread waaaaay out and usually ends up working under the table instead of on it. =)

We have a fishing line across the room to hold art projects and other items that the girls want to display (it's a little bare right now as I just took everything down last week so we could start over). There is also an extra desk that is a computer "station" and comes in handy for spelling (I use Spell Quizzer) and internet research. The low shelf on the end holds science books and displays books we are using for any subject.

The math shelf (math + goldfish = fun). I added labels this year in an effort to help the kids remember where things go after they take them out - it has made a BIG difference! Things are being put away correctly for a change.

This shelf is home to poetry, geography and biography books/games.

Each daughter has her own bulletin board for displaying her work for the week. I added this feature in this year because the girls felt that they weren't able to share their work enough. At the end of the week, they show everything to Daddy (or Nana... or the neighbor...) and it's really worked out well. It's helped involve my husband more than he ever has been before. And the girls are really proud of what they do so it's nice for them to be able to showcase it a little. (This board belongs to DD9.)

DD10's board - her desk is right below it.

DD7's board - above the computer station

DD6's board - above the photocopier/printer

I added the round corner shelves in order to store our art and science gear out in the open. The low shelf next to it holds more science equipment, and the cart below it holds scrap paper.

I added an additional bookcase this year to hold our reading reference material (dictionaries, thesauruses, etc.) plus reading instruction books and leveled readers.
This has to be one of my favorite bookcases in the room because the drawers neatly hold so much! All the construction paper, tissue paper, wood craft sticks and dowels, buttons, beads, clay, pipe cleaners, etc., etc., etc., are hidden away but easily accessible. The top holds a few more supplies (scissors, tape and other things we grab every day) plus more of our picture books.
Thanks for visiting our work space!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Better than Book Reports

This year, I'm doing literature a bit differently. In the past, I've followed an instructional system loosely based on Classical Education. I chose our history topics and tied literature (as much as possible) to the period/person/place we were studying.  We also read many, many other books not related to history, but I didn't count those as "Literature" the subject, just literature worth reading.  For the 2010 - 2011 year, I decided I needed a change and break from Classical, and am using Moving Beyond the Page for literature, social studies and science. 

I have yet to decide whether I love this curriculum or not. After approaching education from a Classical standpoint for so many years, I feel somewhat like a sell-out using a more traditional approach. I recognize that this is not selling out as in theory I don't believe there is one right way to do anything. But emotionally, I feel like I'm cheating. It's illogical, I know. And there are things to like about the change. One of the great things about this curriculum is that it involves layers of thinking on one topic - which the Grammar Stage in Classical Education does not.  Naturally, a parent can always encourage this, but traditionally the Grammar Stage is more about memorization of fact and procedure. We have always been a project-based family so MBtP fits in well as there are many projects in each unit. (This is also the challenge for me with this curriculum - four kids, four times the number of projects.)

My 10-year-old daughter recently completed A House of Tailors for her literature unit. The book ties into her social studies unit on immigration. Last year, I would have had her read the book within a week, discussed it with her, and had her do either a narration or a simple project (depending on the week). I can guarantee you that we would not have spent three weeks on the book. At first, spending so much time on one book was a tough change for her. And for me. But as the year has gone on, I've come to appreciate how much deeper we are delving into each book and how much more she is getting out of it. I believe she has a firmer grasp on literary elements and story structure. She still reads at least 2-3 other books each week (one assigned by me, the others of her choosing) on topics not necessarily related to our so I'm not worried about "killing her love of reading" by any means. In fact, she told me this week how much she likes MBtP and wants to stick with it for next year. Shock!  I don't think any curriculum is perfect, and I'm still undecided about continuing with it for next year, but I can say that sticking with it thus far has broadened my thinking on approaches to learning and I believe it is helping my children develop critical thinking skills.  Above is a picture of the final project on A House of Tailors.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Art for Black History Month

Or for any month, really. But as next month is Black History Month, today we began talking about what this means and why it is important. In art, we discussed that there are many different colors, and that each color can be beautiful. We also thought about how important it is to have variety in color. That in fact, it is the variety which makes each color so beautiful and unique itself. We read Priscilla and the Pink Planet to bring this point home. We then applied this discussion to skin color and created our art work - Many Colored Hands, which is (again) from Art Projects for Kids. The girls really enjoyed using the oil pastels, combining and layering them to create unique colors for the hands. Next month, we will cover much more for Black History Month but this project was a great start!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chess? No Stress!

For several years, my oldest daughters have asked to learn to play chess. While my husband knows how to play, he is rarely home at a decent hour so teaching them consistently was a problem. And unfortunately for the girls, I never learned how to play. Last week we acquired No Stress Chess. (I know, I know - I'm going to sound like a sales representative, and I'm not - though I did provide a link for anyone that feels like looking at it for themselves... I'm just so excited that my family can now play chess together!) No Stress Chess has to be one of the easiest ways to learn the basics of the game. You set up the board, draw a card, follow the directions on the card... and play! Once you've mastered the basic moves, playing with the cards provides interesting chess situations. And possibly most importantly for times when you are playing close to bedtime, if you use the cards it really keeps the game moving along. You can also flip the board over and play a standard chess game without the cards. 

We also have Think Like a King, which is a software program designed to teach chess. I have to say that I love Think Like a King - however, it's a bit tough for my younger crowd. I would recommend it for middle school and up.  It provides much more detail than No Stress Chess and gets into tactical moves, etc., but there's quite a bit of reading which tends to be hard on the 6-10 age group. They really just want to play! Between the two products, I'm determined that I will become a decent chess player. This hasn't happened in the last five days. I can play, but not all that well (hence the score between my husband and I: husband, 4; me, 0; ties, 1). However, ALL of my girls can play with us and with each other - and they enjoy doing it.  I could not be happier with No Stress Chess for my gang.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter Art

Our art project for the week (Winter Birch Trees) involved watercolor paper, watercolor paint, acrylic paint and painters tape. The girls were definitely challenged with thinking "in the negative" while creating this project. Great fun! This idea comes straight from one of my favorite art blogs, Art Projects for Kids.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Off the Bookshelf

 Here's a glimpse at what we're all reading this week...

My Reads Above (I'm revisiting some of the classics this year)

My Husband                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
Everyone (family read-aloud)

Fifth Grader

Third Grader

Second and Third Grader Together  

Second Grader                             
   (for the 2nd time)       

First Grader