Friday, May 22, 2009

Sound Drawers

Here is a pic of our sound drawers

I found a bunch of these little drawers for sale at the dollar store and hot glued them all together.

Here's what I have in my "s" drawer

I have a mix of things that I had around the house (picture of sandles and mini scissors), things I bought at the craft store in the wooden crafts section (sun), and things I ordered from Montessori Services (spider).

The heart shaped box on top is our Story Box.

Sometimes I will put 5-10 objects from the drawers into the story box. Then we sit in a circle and take turns pulling out an object. The first person uses his/her object to begin telling a story. The next person uses his her object to continue the story where the first person left off. You can then record the story, make copy work from scenes in the story, illustrate the story, act out the story...or not.

My kids love this activity. We've come up with some pretty loopy stories in the past.

We also use the sound drawers together with our home made sandpaper letters in a more traditional way to identify beginning sounds.

More of my Montessori Creations

Here are just a couple more things that I've made over the past while to help my 3yo with introductory math:

I made this after I saw the unifix stair online. I created the number columns on my computer and glued them to some foam board. I used match sticks to better define the top and bottom of the columns. I followed the Montessori bead stair colors as best I could given the colors that were available from the selection of Unifix cubes I had. The cubes were included in our materials sent by WAVA.

And here's my own version of the Montessori Spindles

This is made from an old curtain I had around the house. I stitched a few simple pockets and used stickyback felt numbers from the craft store.

My 3yo really enjoys both of these activities.

UPDATE: After reading one of the comments from a very kind reader who pointed out the missing "0" from this work, I've since modified the work to look like this:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Version of the Golden Bead Material

I put off making the golden bead material for a very long time. It just seemed so laborious, so expensive and time consuming. And I kept hoping that I'd find something else to use in its place. Nope. I really needed the golden bead material. So I just had to bite the bullet and make it.

Luckily, I came upon an idea that I believe saved me tons of time, money and effort.

Instead of using "golden beads" and metal wire, I used black pony beads (none of the craft stores had gold) and black plastic string as pictured below:

The spool of plastic string cost me $2.00 and a bag of 720 beads cost me about $4. I bought 3 bags of beads. It is so quick and easy to string up 10 beads and double knot them on each end. They aren't perfect, of course. They're definitely not like the real thing. But they convey the same concept and I think it's okay to teach our kids to be flexible and make do with what is available to us in any given situation.

So, when it was time to make a hundred square, I used the same techniques as described (in French) on this site: but I used white pipe cleaners instead. Again, I paid about $2 for a pack of 100 pipe cleaners and they are very easy to work with. I didn't even really need pliers to finish off the ends.

Here's a hundred bar all strung together

Again, they aren't fancy, but they do the job and they were very inexpensive and MUCH easier to make than if I were to use wire.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Montessori Style Thousands Chain

I'm a huge montessori fan and I try really hard to supplement our WAVA curriculum (which can sometimes be very 2 dimensional and dry) with lots and lots of montessori work.
My 6yo has been asking me lots of questions that would indicate some confusion about the decimal system and place value beyond the "tens place". So I put together some very simple activities to help out with that.

We made the place value cards (copies can be found at once they get their site back up). She recognized those cards from her days at montessori and caught on VERY quickly to the concept of 100s and 1000s.

And then I put together a 1000s chain and helped her count all the way up to 1000.

Too bad my printer was almost out of ink and the arrows aren't so pretty. But she enjoyed this hands look at place value. The chain is very big, obviously. We did this work on our living room floor and she had a good time manipulating and configuring that big long chain. It took me 2 nights to make the chain from pony beads on plastic string. The red beads break up the groups of tens. I believe the real thousands chain is gold. But I couldn't find golden pony beads. So we decided that black and red would suit us just fine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Corn Cob Doll

I was late getting around to this activity but wanted the girls to have this experience anyway. We should have done this back when we were reading Little House in the Big Woods, but oh well.

When I presented the activity I was surprised that my 6yo chose not to be interested. She really didn't have any desire to make a corn cob doll. So I let that be. My 3yo, on the other hand, thought it would be great fun. So we ate our corn for lunch and then we had to let it sit for about 1 week before it felt dry enough to use. I even went so far as to set in in the oven at 200 for a little bit to encourage the drying process.

I let my 3yo paint the cob. Then I helped her glue on a wad of yarn for hair (then I used a staple gun to make sure it was on really good. We glued on some googley eyes and then I helped make a little dress. We wound some pipe cleaners around it for arms and VOILA! Ella the corn cob doll was born, just like Laura's little corn cob doll (sort of).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Race To a Quarter

Here's a money counting game that we adapted to suit our needs.

The original version can be found here:

We play race to a quarter (or race to .50 or .75 depending on our schedule and interest level). It's always out on the shelf and makes a great break-time activity:

The play money is from Staples. The box holding the money and the dice is an old container that originally contained screws from the hardware store. I glued paper cut outs of the various coins at the top of the page before laminating the sheets. The paper coins were included in our Math text.

Best Home School Picture Ever

Friday, May 8, 2009

Study Helps for Laura Ingalls Wilder Series

So, as I mentioned, my girls are loving their study of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. We're in the second book, Little House on the Prairie.

For the first book, I had tried to introduce them to Notebooking pages. The girls weren't really into it. They didn't want to do it and I met with some resistance. Well, the last thing I want when I'm trying to instill a love of literature is resistance. So we stopped the notebooking and switched to lapbooking.
I highly recommend the site at where they offer free lapbook templates for these books.
The girls LOVE lapbooking and it is a great way to break up the reading into bite size pieces that they will remember. Then when they've finished the book and the lapbook, they have a great portfolio of memories that they can keep forever.

I'll post our lapbook when we've finished it.

This has also been a great discussion starter as we talk about various things like lazy cousin Charley who deserved to be stung by a swarm of bees. Or the way Laura refused to complain out loud when her legs hurt from riding in the wagon so long. These books are so full of Life Lessons and it has been so fun getting the girls' feed back on what they read. I feel like we're just starting to get into the spirit of the TJed model as we discuss these great stories of life on the wild frontier.

I also created a map showing the Ingalls' move from Pepin, WI to Independence KS.

This map was printed out from a site that I love at

I used rubber cement to adhere it to foam board and colored in the states where the Ingalls family traveled.

There are T pins labeled with the states they passed through and a black dotted line showing their travel path. The labels are Avery address labels colored with colored pencil.

I keep the pins in a small fishing tackle box. The cover of Melissa & Doug USA Map 51-Piece Floor Puzzle
that we've had for years serves as a guide while she completes this activity.

My daughter LOVED this activity so much that she asked for a larger version that of the whole USA. So here's what I put together for her:

I covered this map with packaging tape since our 1yo had already tried to rip it off the foam board. That made it harder to punch the holes with the T-pins, so I pre-punched them before giving this work to my daughter. She loves it!

Here are the pins for the 48 states, 5 Great Lakes and the Salt Lake stuck in Styrofoam when not in use. Dividing up the state pins by color really helped her as she located the various states on the map.

Reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series

As I mentioned in last night's post, I'm ramping up my efforts to feed my mind with classic literature as recommended in the TJed model. And of course, I'm not leaving my kids out of the picture.

I began wondering just where I'd start on my journey of classical education with the girls. They're young (6 and 3) and not ready for reading chapter books on their own, obviously. As I thought about it, I remembered that I had the whole series of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books stashed a way in my storage room. I eagerly dug them out and began looking through them. My mom gave me the set when I was about 10 or 11 and I remember spending hours on my bed engrossed in those books, sometimes finishing a book in just one or two days. It was fun to find my old book marks tucked in the pages. What great memories.

So that settled it. I had at least several months worth of reading material sitting right in front of me and I couldn't wait to dig in.

When I presented the books to the girls they didn't seem all that interested. I tried to convey my enthusiasm and my love for the books. They did seem curious to find out why I'd be so passionate about some boring looking book. We began to read Little House in the Big Woods all cuddled up in my bed and after the first chapter THEY WERE HOOKED. My 6yo especially loves these books and begs to be read to often.

We are now reading the second book, Little House on the Prarie, which is the most familiar book of the set thanks to the TV Series. By the way, here's a fun clip of highlights from that show and it is amazingly true to the book:

After we finish reading the books, I'd like to get the girls the Little House on the Prairie - The Complete Season 1
but I want them to read it before they watch it.

We're having lots of fun supplementing our readings with other study materials, which I will post about shortly.

The Thomas Jefferson Education

It's late and I really should be sleeping so that I can be my best self when my kids need me tomorrow. But I really need to just say a few words about A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century
by Oliver de Mille. You'll see that I have this book posted to the right as a "must have" and it certainly is, in my opinion.

This is a book that should be on every parent's shelf. It explains the different goals of the various types of education available today and asks a simple question: "Is the education your child receives preparing him/her to be everything they are meant to be?" That's paraphrasing of course.

This book brought something to my attention that I had already known, but never really given conscious thought to: In the past, public education was considered the only viable option for poor children. Wealthy children destined for greatness were home schooled with mentors and classics. Hm. I hadn't really thought of public education as a last resort for those who have no recourse. But that certainly was the beginning of "public" education.

I'm not going to spend lots of time here outlining the pros and cons of public versus private education. I think De Mille's question is really the only one that needs to be posed and when it is answered truthfully, each parent will be led to the kind of education that is best for their child.

Reading this book was a joy. It gave voice to truths that I have held dear for a very long time. It rang true to me instantly and I read it through as quickly as I could. I became convinced more than ever that real education, or leadership education, is best obtained through extensive reading, writing, and discussion. This book embodied every thing that I love about educating and inspired me to take steps toward improving my own education so that I can mentor my children to the best of my ability.

In an effort to take this book seriously and improve myself as a mentor, I am indeed reading more classics as recommend by de Mille. Right now I'm reading The Walking Drum The trick is finding time to read for myself while balancing all my other responsibilities. But I do realize, now, that a good mentor is key to the entire education process. I have to make time for me. I have to be the best that I can be so I can pass on what I've learned and set an example of life long learning.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Home School for Dummies

So, I guess I could call myself something of a cross between a newbie and a veteran home schooler.

We're approaching the end of our first year of home school. It's been a great ride. But I wanted to share with you my intentions for even starting this blog, especially this late in the school year.

See, as a newbie, I really didn't have any experience to guide me through this process of teaching my children academics. Given that we live in the information age, I naturally turned to the internet for help and was OVERWHELMED at the absolute plethora of resources. Let's just say that homeschool resources and blogs are not in short supply. And I think that's great.

But as I came across all these wonderful blogs, I was both encouraged and discouraged; inspired and bewildered. So much information, so many amazing families, so many cool projects and ideas, so wonderful...SO IMPOSSIBLE! Agh! I felt like I lacked the homeschooling gene that all these incredible super human mothers possessed. I happen to personally know one such mother. She's mother of 5 and runs the most amazing home school you'll ever see.

Anyway, I began to wonder where I would fall in all of this. Would I land on my feet if I leaped into this world of homeschooling? I mean, the kids I see on these blogs are genius, the parents are superb. The home class rooms are works of art and engineering mastermind. I could almost hear choirs of angels singing at me through each post that revealed intelligent, capable, knowledgeable, industrious, kind, giving, and persevering over achievers of every age.

WHAAAAT? For REAL? How do these people have time to be so well rounded and so incredibly talented???

What I needed was a Homeschooling for Dummies resource guide to walk me through it all.

If you can relate to what I'm saying, then you're in the right place I hope. I don't intend to impress or overwhelm with what I'm going to share on this blog. I intend to lay it all out on the line and just tell it like it is: the good days, the not-so-good days, and everything in between. Hopefully it will put things into perspective and make it all seem a little more doable...especially for myself! LOL.


Our Decision to Home School

I'm a lucky woman. I get to stay home with my children and raise them myself. Not because it's easy, or because I can't get a job, or because we don't need/want a second income. I do it because I believe that my most important role that I will ever fulfill is that of mother. I believe that NO success can compensate for failure at home.

Am I perfect? NO. Do I have days when I wish I could go to work and leave the chaos at home? YES. But don't we all?

When my oldest child reached school age I had to make some really tough choices about her education. When last September rolled around and it was time to enroll her in kindergarten, I just could NOT do it. I had been putting it off for months. I felt at my core that public school just wasn't the right place for her.

There are lots of reasons to both love and hate public school. And sometimes it's hard to really put your finger on those reasons. But if you've ever had misgivings about having your children in public school, it might be for one of the following reasons:

1) You worry that your child's academic needs are not being addressed. They may be way ahead, or way behind. In either case they aren't getting the attention they need and deserve. The schools do NOT cater to the fast learners. Unfortunately, the "no child left behind" movement also means that "no child can move ahead of the pack". Teachers have to bring up the rear, not blaze trails for the gifted learners. This makes mediocrity not only the norm, but the goal.

2) Your child experiences social injustice, ridicule or harassment at school which impedes the learning process and pretty much makes life miserable for you and your child.

3) Your child's love of learning is being squelched and you can't stand to watch a thriving spirit slowly go numb and die.

4) You are concerned that your children will not be taught correct values or principles at school and will be exposed to demoralizing behavior, practices, theories and personalities.

5) You are concerned that public school is more about forming your child's political opinion while their young minds are susceptible to liberal agendas. Some conservatives go so far as to call public schools "liberal re-education camps". That may be a drastic statement, but I support least to a degree. Just take a look at this clip from a Finnish documentary:

WOW! Yeah, Glenn Beck had a few comments to add to that. You should check his site at and go to the archives for November 7, 2008.

Now, I am not saying that every teacher and every classroom is bad! I have some really fond memories of my education as a child. I went to public school until I graduated at age 18. And I lived! And I learned. And for the most part, it was an acceptable experience. But, at the risk of sounding very much like your grandparents, I have to say that the public school system has continued down a liberal, unionized path over the past few decades that I cannot endure. School just isn't what it used to be even 20 years ago. And my gut told me that public school is simply not where I want my children to learn.

It was a tough decision, but I listened to my gut and did NOT enroll my daughter in public school. So then I had to look at my alternatives, which included private school and home school.

Well, like I said, we're a one-income family and private school is pretty pricey, especially here in the Seattle area. And I had misgivings about home school. I just didn't know if I could do it. I didn't think I could be patient enough, or knowledgeable enough, or fun enough, or dedicated enough, or organized enough to get it right. I mean.....this is my child's education we're talking about! Shouldn't I just leave that to the experts?

I agonized over this decision for a very long time. I consulted friends, teachers, parents, and also my daughter to get her input. Here's what we ended up doing: First, we learned that kindergarten is totally optional in the state of WA. Our state does not even require a child to be in school until age 8.

ISN'T THAT RIDICULOUS? Yes, but true nonetheless.

We ended up taking a multi-faceted plan of action. We made some adjustments in our family budget that allow us to put our daughter in a private Montessori school for just 2 mornings a week. And we also take advantage of a home school program provided by our school district at no additional charge. They will tell you that the program is "free", but really it's just your tax dollars being spent in a different way. You pay for school whether you are there or not! Again...ridiculous. Who else but the government can get away with forcing you to pay for something that is unwanted because it is so sub par?

But this new trend of "public school at home" does seem to be on the rise as parents demand more control of their tax dollars and their children's education.

We chose this path because 1) our daughter is vivacious and extremely social....almost to a fault. And I do have concerns about being able to meet all her social needs with out regular contact from her friends at school. 2) While paying for 2 days at the Montessori school is a stretch, it's doable with a few adjustments to our current habits. However, paying for five is completely out of our budget. 3) I like having 3 days a week when I don't have to rush out the door to school. We can set our own pace and take our time doing home school! So it's been a terrific blend for our family. A really incredible balance of a brick and mortar "school" setting combined with our home school.

If you live in WA and want to check out the "free" online school (virtual academy) you can go to I know they do have online schools for various other states (such as Colorado and Georgia for example).

In March of this year, our budget finally hit the breaking point and I withdrew my daughter from the Montessori program with heave heart. But we have found ways to make up for that in other ways. A future post will explain in more detail how we've been meeting her social needs.

I'll be honest, homeschooling is hard work, even more than I anticipated. We got off to a very rocky start and I had a huge learning curve during the first couple months. But it's getting better, easier, and more fun. And if I had to do it all over again....I would! I can definitely see making home school a permanent lifestyle choice for our family, as long as we continue to find ways that supply social experiences for our children as well.

If you've thought about home school, but you're not sure if you can do it I would just recommend that you start researching, talking, and praying about it. And remember, you don't have to do it forever! You can do it for one semester and see what you think. But do think about it. This is serious stuff that we're up against in the public schools and parents MUST take an active, central part in their child's education.