Thursday, May 28, 2009

Solar Box Cooker

This a very exciting project that we can't wait to try!

Recently, we have been studying solar radiation and energy conservation. What better way to marry the 2 concepts than by building a solar box cooker?

We have come across many design ideas on the internet and have narrowed our choices down to a box cooker or a parabolic umbrella cooker. Since we live in a cold climate, my son has deduced that the box cooker would be more suited to our cooking needs.

Solar cooking has helped many people in developing countries reduce their dependence on firewood and charcoal for their cook fires. This is a zero carbon footprint approach to cooking food. What a concept!

According to our research a box cooker does all types of cooking like boiling, stewing, grilling, and baking. And, food cooked in a solar cooker reportedly tastes better!

We plan on using the instructions for the
Easy Lid Cooker.
Stay tuned for our results!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Homeschooling around the Toddler - 0r - Keeping the Cat out of the Toilet.

Toddlers bring lots of sloppy kisses, big excitement and cuteness to the family. But, if they are not properly attended to they can make homeschooling a bit of a tricky endeavour! Ok, let's be honest they can make it seem nearly impossible!

A few tips can make life a lot easier for you and them!

First of all, make sure that you spend some time one-on-one with your toddler before you begin to work with your school-aged children. If you've just spent 15 minutes playing or reading together, the toddler will be more likely to be ready for a change of pace and will be more ready to spend some time in independent play.

Once you and your toddler have snuggled and huddled for 15 minutes or so, get them settled with a "special fun exploration activity." It's good to have these things organized ahead of time, and only available during "teaching time."
There are lots of things that fit this category, if you think about it. Some of them can be store bought but often the best ones are things that are already around the house.

I stumbled upon this great trick quite by accident at first. It was time to work with my youngest school aged child, who was 6 (and my toddler was 2 ) and so I opened the bottom drawer in the kitchen where I keep all the plastic storage containers and lids. I let my little guy have at it and he was amused for half an hour, safely playing with plastic containers. I made sure we were working in a spot where I could keep my eye on him, and where my 6 year old was not able to see him! After all, it sure looked like more fun than learning ways to "make 10."

Some other low cost and fun things to play with are:
  • Shoes and hats
  • Dry pasta and containers
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Water (supervise carefully!)
  • Finger puppets
  • Toys that the older children have outgrown, but haven't made their way officially into the toddlers collection
  • Lace up Games or spools
  • Non-breakable Mirror and a hairbrush
  • Pots and Pans
The list can grow as long as your arm, but these are some free ways to get started. Post a comment to share ideas that have worked for your toddler.

Happy Homeschooling!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Explode the Code

Even the title of this series is catchy!   This is a great little series of books for teaching explicit phonics to children who are emergent readers and also beginning writers.  

We are using it with our grade primary son this year.

Beginning with Explode the Code 1 students learn the short vowel sounds and beginning and ending letter sounds.  They are shown how to decipher the sounds they are hearing, and match them to letters.  

The series includes matching activities, copy work, spelling practice and short reading activities.  My son enjoys the predictability of it, and I enjoy the continual gradual progression of skills.  EPS has a nice website with lots of sample pages to look at.  

The books are a numbered series, and if you found that your child needed more time on a particular level, they conveniently have review books that follow each level.  The review books are all numbered as 1/2 so the review of book 2 is book 2 1/2.

I was uncertain that the books would have appeal to my son, as the drawings are simple and the work is repetitive.  But, luckily for us.  It's a winner!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vocabulary From Classical Roots

Spelling and vocabulary are the pillars of good writing.    

Teaching them is not always very inspiring.

My eldest, who is in fourth grade, is a very precocious reader. And because of this, his vocabulary is also quite precocious!  Finding a spelling or vocabulary program that gives him challenges has been a bit of a challenge for me!

We have tried a few over the years but the one that we have stuck with the longest has been Vocabulary from Classical Roots by Lee Mountain.

We began with the Book 4 last year and we are just finishing book 5.  We have used the program as a 2 in 1 vocabulary and spelling book.  I don't think it is really written as a spelling series, as there is never any mention of it in the introductions or lessons.  But, for us it is very logical to use it as a spelling resource. 

Every unit is built around a set of roots which are either Greek or Latin.   The units all begin with the presentation of the words, followed by a description of the roots.  Next, there is a dictionary style definition of each word.  The lessons include comparing words for synonyms, using the words in context and knowledge extension exercises.  There are extra words that use the same roots as the words being studied.  These are classified as familiar words and challenge words.  

I love that this program helps students find a method to understand unfamiliar words.  

To turn it from a straight vocabulary method into a spelling method, I have him copy all the words from the unit on Monday,  on Wednesday, I get him to do a self-test by recopying the words without looking, on Thursday he studies any that were tricky and prepares for his Friday test.  

House guests have been impressed to find a spelling test on our fridge with a score of 100% of words that included: chronometer, biometric, trigonometry, and thermoelectric.  

We have ordered it directly from the publisher EPS.
There are lots of online samples available to peruse.  Check it out!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Surfing

Got your coffee or your chai?  Sit back and surf around.

I always love finding new websites that inspire me to learn more about teaching and learning.  Here are a few that I like to poke around in.  These ones have a rather math/science slant!

Ah, New Math!  Check out this old video of the New Math from 1965!

Multiplication facts made easy:  Multiflyer!
This is a great game to learn mulitplication facts while playing a fun game.  Kids earn extra credit for speed!

Science, Social Studies, English, name it, Moby and Tim can teach you about it!
Check out  This link takes you to the free videos, but if you subscribe you can have access to all of them.

Need to brush up on advanced math?  Let Midnight Tutor's videos remind you about what you never learned in highschool and university math!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Book Series

Our family does a lot of reading!
We read everything!  Fiction, non-fiction, classics, pulp fiction, graphic novels, how-to books, comics and more!

Bedtime is a favorite time for reading, (followed up with a quick tickle!)  

As soon as the kids are old enough they begin to share in the "reading aloud ritual."  At first, they choose a book that they can read independantly and share that one with a parent or sibling. Then they take turns reading the same book that we are.  At first it might be tag-team reading where the child is encouraged to read any of the words in the sentence that they recognize or can sound out.  We both look at the words and the mentor reads slowly so that the emerging reader can jump in with any words that they want to try. Eventually, it moves on to alternate sentences or paragraphs or even pages!

Early in the morning is another common time to find us all reading.  We will often snuggle up together in one bed : mine!  luckily it's king size!  The morning sun coming in the window from the east is the perfect light to read by!  I'm often greeted with a nice big pile of picture books borrowed from the library to read through before we start our day.  It's such a peaceful time for all of us!

Since I have boys, I am interested in the fact that a greater proportion of boys are reluctant readers. We have not found that phenomenon to represent our situation. I believe that each child is unique and has their own strengths, and I don't really believe in sex stereotyping.  But is is undenyable that my boys are drawn to certain genres.  

Some fiction series that my boys have enjoyed tremendously are:  (In order:  youngest to oldest, beginning at about age 6.) 
What books have your boys enjoyed?  Or your girls for that matter?