Homeschool is for the–SQUIRREL! by Faith

 

I was homeschooled for a few years off and on as a child. My parents used various methods and curricula (or no curricula at all), mixed in with various schools, the gifted program, moving around to new schools and programs–lather, rinse, and repeat. I swore that I would never homeschool my child. I would go crazy. I wanted maybe two children, tops, and they would go to school so I could catch a break. Homeschooling moms were crazy.

Well, I can’t say the last sentence is wrong! Some days I do feel absolutely insane. Sign me up for the loony bin. But we are doing what is best for our family, which didn’t turn out exactly as I had designed it in my head as a teenager.

My oldest child was born while I was in college and working full-time, trading shifts with hubby. My daughter, The Sponge, was adorable, charming, sweet, and we realized we really wanted more. So we had another shortly thereafter, giving us two girls two years apart.

That second girl, The Drama, was an extremely challenging babe. She ended up in Early Intervention, where she received therapy for severe sensory issues, speech and communication issues, and hearing issues from hidden/symptomless ear infections. So when The Drama, my wild child, began to surpass her elder sister in areas of self-control, attention span, ability to sit, ability to listen to anything read aloud, and more, I realized that perhaps The Sponge wasn’t quite on a normal developmental track.

The older she grew, the more pronounced her issues became. The children around her grew, matured, and settled. She did not. My visiting parents commented it was a miracle she was still alive. At 5.5 years, she was still running in front of cars in the street. She ran off wherever and whenever the fancy struck, honestly seemed not to hear people speaking at all; she literally seemed to have a disconnect between her brain and her body. In the moment, she was unable to control herself in any way, even if it meant putting her life in obvious and grave danger. The filter between “what I want to do” and “what I should do/reality/safety/rules” seemed to be completely missing.

She was even unable to handle her once-a-week 50-min Sunday School class without getting in trouble. We tried diet changes, supplements like omega-3 oils, and routines. She continued endangering her own life. When even my friend, a super-hippie, energy-work lady, recommended I take her to see a doctor, I was more than ready. At least it wasn’t just me!

During these formative years, The Sponge maintained a strange relationship with learning. She would hide in the back room, grab the workbooks I had bought for fun at the thrift store, and work through pages and pages and pages and pages without stopping. She could draw for 8 hours straight, but not sit still for two minutes for an actual lesson without nearly going insane. She would literally cry if an audiobook was turned on. She read on her own at three, but would cry and run away if I tried to teach her phonics. She adored logic, infinity, and negative numbers, but couldn’t add and had no grasp of place value. The Sponge was capable of upper elementary science as a preschooler, drank it in like, well, a sponge, and would chatter away about advanced details of anatomy and physiology.

So, how do YOU think school went for her?

First she went to preschool for 2.5 years, thanks to the generosity and love of the nursery school teacher at our church. Preschool was two hours of art, playtime, snack, and behavioral expectations aimed at children younger than she was, in a group of 4-6 children. That she could handle. Usually. She also rattled off constant questions to the teacher on why things worked they way they worked, why the crow was black, on and on and on. In such a small group with such young children, that was fine. She had a late birthday, so she was in preschool and half homeschooled for her kindergarten year (age five), simply because she couldn’t go into a school at her age.

When she was finally old enough for kindergarten, I signed The Sponge up for a multi-sensory charter school. It sounded fabulous on paper. Yet despite being a charter school, the academics were the opposite of rigorous. The packet she was to complete by the end of the year? Apart from knowing her address and phone number, she could have finished the entire thing on her first day–if she could have sat still long enough to fill in more than a few lines at a time, which she couldn’t. She was still at a preschool level of attention and control.

She had a long bus ride(starting at 6:45am!) to a place where she already knew what they were learning, and she was bored out of her mind. This does not help a hyperactive kid, by the by. Before the end of the first week, she was lying and faking sick to try and avoid school. In kindergarten. The fun one.

After many fruitless attempts to contact the (hypothetical) school psychologist, I finally pulled The Sponge from that school. I found a charter school that offered one day a week of all of their fine arts programs to homeschoolers. They were happy to place her with her age peers in first grade for the day. I enrolled The Sponge there and she went once a week for the entire year. She still lied and threatened in order to avoid going in the mornings, because in her words, “I HATE SITTING STILL!” but I thought one day a week was worth it. It did not teach her to sit still, or improve her mental functioning in any real way, but she drew, sang, learned, made friends, and always came home cheerful, which was a welcome change. After that year, though, I knew a traditional school setting was not in the cards for this girl.

butterfly

Her learning was so asynchronous as to drive a normal person insane. She was five grade levels apart in various areas. She could not move past one-step math problems. She could not hold the first number in her head while she did the second part. Making ten? Adding past one place value? Not possible. Minute anatomical details and high-level science? Easy. This coincided with the recommendation of similarly anti-medication-minded friends to seek help for her issues before she got herself killed through sheer inattention to the world around her.

At an assessment at the pediatrician, she scored extremely high for ADHD and we began Adderall. The change was immediate. She was The Sponge, but with access to her brain. She could pause in that split second and make a choice; for the first time in her life, she could actually control her actions. She could hold numbers in her head, learned place value, learned how to write properly, and shot ahead in reading over the next year. Understanding her condition, her Sunday School teachers allowed her to color in class, which improved her behavior and her ability to answer questions tremendously. That year I homeschooled, and she learned and thrived.

Something else was still wrong, however. It was indefinable, but something was still not right in her brain. Things improved, but only partially. We regularly had to up the dosage of her medication, as it seemed to lose its efficacy. Tics began to show up and increased in prevalence. There was something else just…off in her thoughts and behavior. The pediatrician recommended a full evaluation by a professional.

Extensive testing found the missing pieces. The Sponge was diagnosed with a combination of Asperger’s, ADHD-Combined, and anxiety, plus Tourette’s. That was it. Asperger’s was the big missing piece in the equation. Her medication was switched to a non-stimulant, which reduced her tics and insomnia, plus an anti-anxiety/anti-tic medication that also boosts the effectiveness of ADHD medication. Two small pills, no stimulants. Elegant.

As it was a non-stimulant, the medicine took months to build to effectiveness. Thankfully it was summer, and I could send The Sponge out with her sister to play with friends, a new occupation once the medication began working–previously she had no interest in playing with actual people, only herself and her own games and experiments. In the period between stopping the stimulant and getting the non-stimulant up to an effective range, I was the parent of a hyperactive 2-year-old (ADHD Mode) or 30-year-old (Asperger’s/Anxiety Mode) in an 8-year-old’s body.

The medication is balanced now and she is capable of schoolwork again. The grade levels of her subjects are growing closer to normal, the asynchronous gaps shrinking. She is in a 13-week social skills program. Initially we all thought this program would prepare her for traditional school. However, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve seen how holding it together for the several-hour program takes all of her self-control, how she loses it when she comes home, how her anxiety spikes afterwards, and how she obsesses and over-analyzes the various parts of the program and every person in it. She could possibly manage to follow the rules and sit in a school setting next year, but it would take every ounce of her self-control and she would implode from the pressure.

In addition, she has very slow processing speed, so the work itself, if she could pay attention to it, would take her twice as long as everyone else. She would be doing homework the entire evening. Homeschooling is generally much more efficient than public school and can be completed in a fraction of the time, thanks to a lack of any busywork or crowd control or waiting for others. With The Sponge, we need a full school day of time to finish her work in this one-on-one setting. She would never manage to get it finished in a distracting environment where she is using every ounce of energy to sit still, remember the rules, follow the rules, plus not yell or blow her nose on her shirt or cry under her desk. She is thriving in homeschool: learning, closing gaps, and expanding her horizons. Homeschool is the best place for her right now. (She will be in a drama class with PS kids next year, though. She always needs some social practice!)

So, my kid is one of those Weird Homeschooled Kids. However, she would be the Weird Miserable Bullied Public School Kid or the Weird Miserable Bullied Charter School Kid if we didn’t homeschool. You can’t change Weird, but you certainly can tailor an education and life experience to Weird!

 

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child and has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child iFaiths diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.

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DIY Science in Grammar Stage–and Earlier! by Faith

Teaching Elementary Science

 

To DIY science, there are an incredible number of options. Here I’ve attempted to list the  main categories. If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments!

Library books! Reading books about science topics can really spark interest and become the springboard for further study. Let’s Read and Find Out and DK Eyewitness are two of our favorite science series. For older elementary kids, Max Axiom graphic novels bring science to life.

Documentaries! These are available at libraries, on video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and for purchase. These are available on essentially every science subject imaginable. Some of our favorites are MicroCosmos (extremely detailed bugs-eye view) and anything by NOVA.

Science shows! These run the gamut from Popular Mechanics for Kids, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Beakman’s World to Magic School Bus, MythBusters, and Wild Kratts. Again, these are available in libraries, video streaming, and for purchase.

Nature study! Walking outside regularly, making observations, collecting specimens, and drawing/writing about what the child sees provides a thorough education in itself. Catch bugs and watch their life cycles, compare drawings of the trees in all four seasons, and look up the names of local flowers in a guide book. If you want some guidance, the Handbook of Nature Study is the top resource (this book is available for purchase but it is also free online as it is in the public domain).

Science fun! Science supply stores like Home Science Tools (http://www.hometrainingtools.com/) and local hobby shops have enough hands-on science experiences to last for years! Taking apart and examining the world around them is a perfect way for your children to discover their inner scientist. Microscopes, bug catchers, dissection kits, binoculars, and magnifying glasses let children learn in unmatchable hands-on ways. There are experiment kits, anatomy models, solar-powered robots, grow-your-own crystals, rockets, bacteria culturing kits, telescopes, and more! Other fun ideas include Legos, K’nex and other building kits, Snap Circuits, even just a supply of ½” PVC pipes cut in various lengths and a lot of matching joints. See what floats and sinks, make potato batteries, or construct catapults. Don’t forget about buying old broken electronics and appliances at thrift shops and taking them apart carefully!

YouTube! Use it at your own risk, but YouTube has many DIY instructions available. On  a bookshelf I have the small robot my daughter and her mentor built following YouTube instructions.

Coding! Coding is becoming more and more important in many fields. Thankfully, there are many free and low-cost coding resources for kids. Free online programs like Scratch, Hopscotch, and Tynker allow children to understand the basic ideas of coding. Simple robotic programming kits are available that function on a similar easy coding level, such as Lego WeDo. There are pay sites for more advanced coders, such as GameStar Mechanic. Www.code.org is a new site devoted to the ideal that every single child should learn basic coding. It offers free online tutorials and resources. There are also many coding apps, including Hopscotch, Lightbox, Move the Turtle, Daisy the Dinosaur, and CargoBot. For “real” coding, books such as Python for Kids abound, as well as serious coding apps.

Apps! Science-related apps for various devices are nearly endless. I could devote an entire blog post just to apps. There are also games online. Choices run from physics hidden in simple games (Cut the Rope) to overt science (Monster Physics, iLearn Solar System) to advanced scientific work (3D CellStain). There are hundreds, maybe thousands of options.

Dissection! Dissection allows students to really see and understand anatomy and botany on a higher level. Pictures in a book aren’t the same. An easy way to start is by dissecting flowers. There are many free online flower dissection guides, worksheets, and videos. This is one of the simplest examples, with photographs and explanations showing preschoolers carefully dissecting lilies. Animal dissection is a step up, but still well within the capabilities of most elementary students. A dissection tools kit will allow students to dissect multiple specimens, even the inevitable, “Mom! There are tiny squid in the deli! Can we buy them and dissect them, pleeeeeeeeeeeease?” You will need a scalpel with exchangeable blades for cleaning, scissors (preferably the sort that comes apart for sterilizing), foam trays, gloves, and T-pins at a minimum. Biologyjunction.com has many free pdf dissection guides that I find more user-friendly and helpful than the guides I purchased with the specimens. I recommend having your student read library books on whatever you plan to dissect, and then download your favorite worksheets to do the next day to cement their learning. Notebooking and writing/drawing their observations also works well. For those who do not want to participate in actual dissections, there are many virtual dissection options, from owl pellets to frogs to salmon to cow eyes to brain surgery! I was going to link them but there are far too many. Google “virtual dissection.”

Find a mentor! If your child is heavily into science, find a local scientist and let the magic happen. Friends, family members, friends of family members, workers at the local science centers and museums are all possibilities (always taking care whom you allow access to your child). As you observe their sessions, you might gain some science ideas to work on at home!

Once you have a firm grasp of the basics, you can branch out in many exciting ways. One of my favorites is the self-designed experiment:

Read extensively about one particular branch of science. Watch documentaries on it. Find one part that really piques the student’s interest. Gently guiding when necessary, have the student formulate an experiment of his or her own invention to do in that area of science. Then follow through! Make observations, repeat the experiment multiple times, play with variables, record data meticulously, and prepare graphs and a report showing the findings. Take copious pictures to record a Scientist in Action!

This is barely scratching the surface of scientific possibilities. Go forth and DISCOVER!

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child aFaithnd has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child is diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.

Elementary Science Curriculum, by Faith

Teaching Elementary Science

 

In grammar stage science, you can use a preset curriculum, explore science on your own, or use any combination of the two. I have a post on DIY science here.  This post is about pre-written curriculum option for the grammar stage. First I will review several elementary school options I have used, and then I will provide a list of other options to peruse on your own time. Some of these are being reviewed by other Sandbox to Socrates members! Use what feels right for your family. Also note that most curriculum options have free samples to download on their respective sites.

I am a secular homeschooler. I prefer to add my religion into curriculum myself, not have it written into the teacher’s manual. As such, I am most familiar with the secular options. For the grammar stage, none of the following options reviewed (BFSU, RSO, Ellen McHenry, TOPS) mention commonly controversial topics for religious teachers, like the origin of life or dinosaurs. Some of the items linked afterwards might.

Reviews:

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

BFSU: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (K-2nd) and Elementary Science Education (3rd-5th), by Bernard Nebel. Each volume is meant to span the full three years. This science program is extremely rigorous and thorough while teaching in a way that children intuitively grasp. It uses observation and guided Socratic questioning to lead children to discover scientific principles for themselves. Each entire curriculum is a single thick book, beginning with several chapters to the teacher on effective teaching, a flow chart, and lesson plans. All four science topics (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science) are taught in whatever order you fancy. The flowchart shows which lessons, if any, are prerequisites for other lessons. For example, the lessons on Inertia and Friction must be completed before teaching Rate of Fall, Weightlessness in Space, and Distinction between Mass and Weight.

Each lesson contains an Overview; Time Required per lesson part; Objectives; Required Background; Materials; Teachable Moments; Methods and Procedures; Questions/Discussion/Activities to Review, Reinforce, Expand, and Assess Learning; To Parents and Others Providing Support; National Science Education Standards; and Books for Correlated Reading.

This program, while fantastic for science-minded kids, is often overwhelming for parents. I would recommend the following sequence:

Make sure you have taught any prerequisite lessons before beginning your lesson.

Check out the Books for Correlated Reading from your library, along with any other books on the topic.

Make sure you have all the Materials (most are truly household objects, like wooden pencils, balloons, marbles, vacuum cleaner, sugar, etc).

It will take a few days to read through the library books with your child. In that time, skim over the methods and procedures. Key words are written in capital letters in the text. Familiarize yourself with what you will be doing and discussing.

Then gather your materials and dive in! Many lessons have multiple “parts,” and each part can easily be its own day, or even multiple days.

If your students needs more reinforcement or wants to do more with the topic, browse the Questions/Discussion/Activities section. Volume 2, Elementary Science Education, recommends the student keeps a notebook to record what they learn.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey

RSO: R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, by Pandia Press, offers biology, chemistry, and earth/space science at Level One. This level is appropriate for 1st to 5th grade. Each subject is a one-year program. RSO teaches to the student in a conversational manner, followed by activities and experiments that reinforce learning. Cute illustrations accompany the stories and activities. The scientific method is emphasized, and many of the activities expressly follow those steps. Students will learn to gather and record data, fill out diagrams, and conduct experiments.

RSO is a single manual per subject, either hard copy or printable e-book. Everything is black and white, so printing is easier. The activity sheets can be printed for each student as many times as needed. The book’s layout is intuitive and easy to understand. Material lists at the beginning of the book let parents be prepared for any lesson or the entire year. The lessons flow one after another easily, and the activities are fun. Children with many different knowledge levels and learning styles enjoy RSO.

Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop

Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop: Ellen McHenry has written some of the most child-friendly science programs I have ever seen. Conversational prose is written directly to the student and makes the topics easy to understand without talking down at all. Multiple activities and games accompany most chapters, as well as salient Internet links. She also has free downloads such as a photosynthesis relay game that demonstrate her style. The Brain, the Elements, Carbon Chemistry, Cells, and Botany are all available in digital download, hard copy, and hard copy with CD.

TOPS

TOPS: Deceptively simple and cheap materials are used to explore many scientific principles in depth. Lessons are available for grammar stage physics and life sciences (others at higher grades). The program expects rigor and understanding for the age range. For instance, the 3rd-8th “Radishes” program teaches the students to grow radish seeds. Sounds boring. However, the plants are carefully checked and recorded daily for four weeks. Twenty activity sheets plus many additional ideas, questions, and labs are used with them to teach about plotting graphs, predictions, photosynthesis, growth rates, greenhouses, tropisms, toxic stress, and more.

List of Other Popular Options:

Singapore My Pals are Here (MPH): Textbook, Teacher’s Guide, and Activity Book.

Nancy Larson: Provides all materials, very interactive/hands-on. Expensive.

Apologia Elementary Science: Religious. Textbook and notebooking journal.

Otter’s Homeschool Science: Free lesson plans online! Anatomy/human body study, rigorous and fun. If I had more days in the week I would use this, too.

Exploration Education: CD and project supplies plus logbook. Experiment-focused. K-3rd. 4th – 6th. 

Real Science 4 Kids: Student text, teacher’s manual, laboratory workbook.

Alpha Omega Lifepacs: Workbooks and lab supplies. Religious.

Bob Jones: Religious. Student text, activities manual, teacher’s manual, tests.

Mr. Q’s: Online downloadable and printable e-books. Life Science is free!

More science is out there! If I missed any that you love, tell me about them in the comments!

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child aFaithnd has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child is diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.

Preschool and Kindergarten Science, by Faith

Teaching Elementary Science

 

Young children love to see science in action. They need to see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, and live it. Simple experiments bring science to life. It can be as easy as teaching the words, “sink and “float,” filling up the bathroom sink, and seeing what household objects sink or float. As a bonus, you can make a chart on a big piece of paper and list or draw pictures of everything that floated under “Float” and everything that sank under “Sink.” You can observe nature, catch bugs, watch rainbows, make a baking soda and vinegar volcano, drop Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke, mix colored water, and use mirrors with a flashlight. Sort items into solids and liquids. Grab a magnet and see what sticks! You can read library books. (Let’s Read and Find Out series is fabulous for this age.) Experiment kits are also quite fun for this age, such as Magic School Bus kits.

This is also an excellent time to let your child guide his or her own education. Ask your child what he wants to learn about! For instance, if they are always catching bugs, provide them with the tools to do so, join them, and point out the six legs, the hard exoskeleton, and the three body parts as you go. Read a few books about insects together. Watch MicroCosmos. Give them colored pencils and ask them to draw the bugs they saw. Let them try walking like a bug or picking up food with two fingers representing insect jaws. Keep an insect for a day with leaves and earth in an appropriate container and watch what it does. You can even order butterfly or ladybug larva or keep an ant farm!

There are so many choices for science on your own at any age. I’ve blogged more about DIY elementary science here.

However, many parents don’t want to invent their own science experiments every week. There are plenty of options that lay out simple science ideas for Pre-K and K age students for the parents to follow. The cheapest approach is to Google “Pre-K science” and pick an activity of the multitude that appear!

Many Pre-K and K curriculum include a science section. However, some parents want a separate science guide to use whenever they choose. Here are some options to keep in your bookshelf:

Mudpies to Magnets/More Mudpies to Magnets: These books provide simple experiments for young children. Step-by-step instructions and illustrations make these experiments easy to perform. Each experiment is labeled with an age range beginning as young as two, and contains very age-appropriate science. Some experiments are couched in terms meant for a group, but they can still be done at home.

Science is Simple: Over 250 Experiments for Preschoolers: The official age range on this is 4-6. It is written for a classroom and has a lot of involved experiments. They can easily take you through first grade, but some are more involved than the previous options. Many parents aren’t going to, as the book suggests, buy live crickets at the store and keep them in a terrarium for observation. Many of the activities are simpler, however, and a lot of thinking is encouraged. This book begins with a section for the teachers to read. There is a focus throughout the book on the scientific method and recording observations.

The Everything Kids Easy Science Experiment Book: This book has a variety of simple science activities easily done with young children. The activities are followed by a related scientific explanation for older children. For instance, one page suggests a nature walk with leaf gathering, followed by leaf examination (using a magnifying glass if you have one), leaf sorting, and leaf rubbing art. This would work well for Pre-K and K students. This is followed by two paragraphs on trees, leaves, stems, and deciduous vs coniferous that can easily be included or excluded as you wish.

Singapore Early Bird Science: This is a series of workbooks for young children. Simple lessons and activities are taught briefly. A light overview of science.

WinterPromise Animals Around the World: This Pre-K/K program explores seven different habitats and the animals within them. It also introduces the idea of a nature journal. Crafts are generally a feature of WinterPromise products. This is an expensive option. They also sell a 1st-4th grade version, so make sure you’re looking in the right place.

Nancy Larson: This science program provides all materials needed to use it, and it is very interactive/hands-on. There are many bright photographs included for the lessons. This is more expensive. The K and 1st grade levels appear very fun, but a bit light on content.

If you feel your child is ready for more advanced science, check out the Grammar Stage Science post!  Many of those options start in K or 1st for the strong science student.

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child aFaithnd has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child is diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.