Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Review of Home Science Adventures

I have been using Home Science Adventures in our homeschool this year with Rose, my third-grader, and James, my sixth-grader. In this post, I'm going to share a few photos of the things we've been doing and some thoughts I have about this program.

First of all, Home Science Adventures offers six different science kits ~ plus two triple sets, which include three of the regular kits. I decided to go with one of the triple sets so we would have our science activities set for the year. We settled on the Astronomy, Birds, and Magnetism set. At the time I ordered, I wasn't totally sure if I would incorporate James into our lessons, mostly because I wasn't sure if the program would feel too young for him. The HSA website recommends the kits for grades 1-8. When I got the materials, I looked everything over and decided it would work fine for him to use along with Rose. He is definitely having a lighter science year this year than last, but that's okay with me. I do think that for us, 6th grade is the upper limit I would use HSA for. To me, it feels too light and "introductory" for an eighth grader.

The lessons in HSA are short, simple, and to the point. The focus is on the hands-on activity. This is definitely a "less is more" type program, and only a few key concepts are introduced in each lesson. I really like that about it though, because I feel like what we learn is really sticking. Also, we only spend about 60-90 minutes total each week on science, usually split over two days.
That gets us through two HSA lessons.  So, it's a very do-able program, even if you are a bit crunched for time, like  me.

How far apart are objects in the solar system?

 As far as the younger grades go, as I said, Rose is a third-grader this year, and I think that age is pretty perfect for this program. It could certainly be used with a first-grader, but it would probably help if they were a bit science-oriented, at least for the two units (astronomy and magnetism) we have tried so far. The other thing is that James could do this program entirely by himself, if I needed him to. Rose would be able to do some parts of it by herself. A younger child would most likely need help the entire time.

Comparing the sizes of the planets

Okay, so you here's what you get when you order the Astronomy-Birds-Magnetism set!


As you can see, you get a lot of stuff! This is a really fun box to open. It has literally everything you need for a whole year of science, except for a two-liter soda bottle. And I really mean everything - we were given tacks, paper cups, string, a nail, a little bag of birdseed, a ruler, a thermometer, toothpicks, and even a pin stuck in a piece of Styrofoam so we don't poke ourselves. In the colored folders are the lesson sheets and any other reproducibles for each lesson. I chose to get the optional binoculars with the astronomy set, and for the small extra price, they work well. You get a ton of little pieces in this box!

The set also comes with a parent guide, which is just a set of stapled notes for each lesson, including answers, hints, and ideas for further study. One of my few complaints about this program is that I would have preferred to have a nicer parent guide, perhaps a small spiral-bound book. I am always afraid of losing the stapled pages, but in retrospect, perhaps I should have hole-punched them or stuck them in a sheet protector. The lesson sheets have the directions for each activity (these are written to the child) and spaces for them to record their thoughts and observations. Writing is pretty minimal, so this program has worked well for my sometimes pencil-phobic children. There is a suggestion in the parent guide to make a science notebook, but we chose to keep it simple and only use the lesson sheets. There is only set of lesson sheets, so I copy an extra for each lesson so both kiddos can have their own.

Testing which poles attract

Some thoughts on doing this with two kids - there are definitely enough supplies to have two kids share this program - you'll just need to copy the lesson sheets if you want them each to have one. Sharing has not been a problem and I often ask James to do the set up, demonstrate how to do the experiment to his sister, and help her fill in her sheet.

The three units of the triple set can be done in any order; they stand alone. We chose to start the year with astronomy, and the very first lesson we did was on tracking the moon. The kids kept a moon chart and noted what phase the moon was in every few nights. Simple, but a really  nice way to get us paying attention to the night sky on a regular basis. Incidentally, we have this calendar at home, and it's a great go-along to the astronomy unit. If we weren't totally sure of the moon phase we just checked our calendar. Our next lesson had the kids draw the moon while observing the craters with their binoculars. We learned what ejecta rays are and how craters form. This lesson had a fun optional idea to design your own moon base, but the kids weren't interested, so I didn't push it.

For other astronomy lessons, we figured out how high the kids could jump, and how high that would be on the moon and on other planets (and why). We did a greenhouse experiment to see just why it is hotter on Venus than Mercury. Again, each of these lessons has go-along hints, tips, and extra facts included in the parent guide, as well as simple ideas for extra study - many of these are just other things to discuss or briefly research and only take a few minutes to add in.

At this point, we hit the holidays, so we took a break from science. Getting back to our astronomy studies proved difficult - it was either cloudy, too cold, or someone was too tired from practice to go outside. We also had several weeks of sickness, which did not help! So, I decided to switch to the  magnetism kit for a while and we'll pick astronomy back up in the spring (we have six lessons left).
Testing out magnetic fields

Another magnet sculpture

Home Science Adventures is not a secular program, and there are a (very) few religious references, but we have not found this to be an issue at all as a secular homeschooling family.

Making predictions ~ what is magnetic?

 So to sum up - I really like this program and I think the kids do, too. It is easy to use, which is always a plus, especially for someone like me who tends to push science to the back burner. This program gets done, which is huge in my book! I also really love having everything provided for me! For so many other science programs we have to hunt around for things, go shopping for items we need to do an experiment, or modify experiments to fit what we do have. Not so here! It is light, but I am okay with that; it fits what I wanted for science this year. If you have any questions about Home Science Adventures, I am happy to try to help; just leave me a comment below. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Homeschool Photo Journal: Valentines, Snow, & Science

Flowers from the kids:: Seeing how food coloring spreads through water :: experimenting with magnets in Home Science Adventures :: Getting ready for the Great Backyard Birdcount:: learning about chromosomes and extracting DNA from a banana (BookShark Science 6) :: a new Five in a Row book :: pompom monsters for Valentine's Day :: cupid floats :: snowstorms :: stacking conversation hearts.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mid-Year Update: Homeschooling Sixth Grade

We are officially on week 19 of our 36-week homeschool year...right where we should be in some subjects, behind in others, and ahead in just a few. So I am planning a series of posts to update you all on how things are going in our homeschool! I posted an update for my third-grader last week; this week's update is devoted to my sixth grader, James (you can see his original sixth grade plans here).

We have made a few tweaks as this year went on, mainly in order to combine some subjects with his siblings and ease my workload a bit! I'll explain as I go. James is doing much of his work independently this year, but I check in with him throughout the day. 

Here's what he's doing...

  • Analytical Grammar ~ We started the year by working through Season 1 of AG together. It took until just before the holidays. Now that he is finished, he does the AG review book independently, completing one exercise every two weeks. I reviewed Analytical Grammar here
  • Teaching Textbooks 6 - I talked a  bit about how we use this program here and hereBut basically, James does his lesson independently, then I go over it with him briefly to make sure he understood it. I check his grade on the computer, and if needed, go over any incorrect problems with him. 
  • Duolingo French ~ he spends about 10-15 mintues a day puttering around on this site to learn some vocabulary. 
  • Literature & history readings - We are doing this a bit differently than originally planned. The original plan was to  use BookShark's Eastern Hemisphere. Instead, we changed things up so he and his older siblings could do more together, with a focus on modern history.  

Currently, I am reading aloud to him and his older siblings from these books each day:

He also reads to himself each day; he has been reading some books from BookShark's Eastern Hemisphere and some others we had on hand from the general time period we are studying. 

Currently he is reading:

After he reads, I quickly skim his reading and have him narrate a bit to me, or if he is reading a BookShark book,  I use the discussion questions in the instructor guide. 

Moving on to science ~ James does a Home Science Adventures experiment twice a week or so along with his younger sister. We are using the Astronomy-Birds-Magnetism Triple Set.  I'll have a review of this program up in the next week or so and hope to start posting reviews of other programs we're using as well. 

And that's it for the day! After he finishes, he usually has chores to do, takes a shower, gets ready for practice, or just putters around. On Fridays, he usually spends the whole morning doing art - he is using Drawing Lab along with Christopher. After he does a lesson or two from that book, he often draws on his own until lunch-time, after which we are generally done for the week!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

February Memory Making

In keeping with my resolution to be more thoughtful and organized when it comes to celebrating the seasons... here are some plans and random thoughts for February - a month that can be a bit hard to love, yet has so many fun things to look forward to! This is an update to last year's post. 

Special Dates to Celebrate

*February 2nd ~ Groundhog's Day/Candlemas *

At some point we pop over to Punxsatawney Phil's official website to see if he saw his shadow or not (or we find a video on You Tube). Someone always points out that even if he does see his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter, that that would still be an early spring around these parts! We often have a fun Groundhog's Day dessert that night, like these little pudding cups (this year we made these).

Historically, according to Mrs. Sharp, Candlemas Day was the day that the household would make an inventory of the household candles and replenish them as necessary. We take this day as an excuse to light a lot of candles at dinner. We light candles most nights for dinner, but on Candlemas we like to go all out and light every single candle we can find in the house. It makes quite an impressive display during dinner. 

*February 5th ~ The Superbowl*

We aren't big football fans in our house, but we always watch the Superbowl and make an evening of it. Everyone picks a team to root for and we make a lot of fun food - nachos, sliders, 7-layer dip, a veggie tray, and boneless chicken wings. We watch the game while we eat.  For dessert we often do a "football field" cake - just a rectangular chocolate cake with green frosting "grass". I have the kids print out little clipart team flags to decorate it with. And yes, we do stay up late to watch the whole game, no matter how long it goes on for....always past my bedtime!

*February 12th & 22nd ~ Lincoln's & Washington's Birthdays*

I know President's Day is for celebrating all the presidents together, but we like to do something a little special for Lincoln and Washington on their special days. So we make a Lincoln's Log (a jelly roll) for Lincoln's birthday and a cherry pie for George Washington. Or we purchase either or both, again, it all comes down to what else is going on that day. 

*February 17th -20th ~ Great Backyard Birdcount*

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual event that we participate in whenever possible. I try to get at least three of the four days of counting in. We count birds in our own backyard, which means we don't usually see anything too exciting, but it is time well spent to find out who is visiting our yard each year.  

*February 14th ~ Valentine's Day*

We start our Valentine's Day celebration the weekend before by making valentines for each other, plus a few to mail to some special people. The ones made for our family go into an old hat box until the big day, along with any cards we may receive in the mail.  On Valentine's Day we have waffles (frozen or homemade) with strawberries and whipped cream. Everyone gets a small cup of pretty candy at their place that morning, and we all look at our cards. Then, the kids compete to see who can make the highest conversation heart tower.  This is a tradition they invented on their own, and I buy an extra bag of candy each year for them to use.  I try to make something just a bit fancier for dinner, and dessert is always a heart-shaped cake

Things to Notice & Do This Month

  • Hope for snow - we haven't been able to sled or make snow ice cream yet!
  • The days getting longer...slowly but surely
  • Those wonderful days when the sun starts feeling warm again
  • Songs of the chickadees
  • The Full Snow Moon on February 11th
  • Tap our maple trees towards month's end
  • Decorate for Valentine's Day and make a craft or two
  • Put away all lingering Christmas decorations
  • Buy flowers - primroses lined up on a window are so cheery this time of year
  • Buy a box of chocolates to share
  • Make homemade candy
  • Try out some new board games
  • Continue planning for spring and summer fun - daytrips, hikes, camping trips, etc.
  • The National Mythology Exam
 Now I am sure we will not get to everything on this list; we'll see what we can fit in!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mid-Year Update: Homeschooling Third Grade

We are officially on week 18 of our 36-week homeschool year...right where we should be in some subjects, behind in others, and ahead in just a few. So I am planning a series of posts to update you all on how things are going in our homeschool! I'll start with my third-grader, Rose because she is the easiest;).

First of all, you can see Rose's third grade plans here. And what you see there is what we are doing; I haven't made any changes so far.

Here's a rundown of what my third-grader's school day looks like....

Language Arts

I start my homeschool day with Rose because she is always up and ready. My older kids tend to sleep in and drag a bit in the morning, but she is always energetic and raring to go. This means we can start sometime between 8:30 and 9, which I love. We always start with language arts and we do things in this order pretty much every day.

1. First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 3 - I cannot say enough about how much I love the First Language Lessons series! I don't have a review up for this level yet, but you can see reviews of Levels 1, 2, and 4 on my review page. We do one lesson a day, three days a week, and the lesson usually takes 10-20 minutes to complete (but usually closer to the shorter side).

2. Writing with Ease Level 3 - I reviewed this here. This is another awesome Peace Hill Press product that makes it super easy to do narration and dictation exercises. Rose doesn't always love the dictation, but her skills in it are steadily improving, and she enjoys reading all the little story snippets for her narrations. She has actually checked out several books from the library to read because snippets of them were included in WWE, and she wanted to read the rest. We do WWE four days a week, for about 15-20 minutes each day.

3. Writing Strands Level 3 - We wrap up our "together" language arts work with WS3, which I reviewed here. I really like the wide variety of writing assignments in this little book. Sometimes, if she has had a long dictation or is just a little tired, I will have her dictate while I write, sometimes she writes everything herself, and sometimes we take turns. It just depends on the day, but the assignments are nicely broken up so that it never seems like too much. The book tells us to take a week off between assignments; sometimes we do, sometimes we don't, depending on if we are caught up or not.

4. With our "together" language arts work finished, we move on to our read-alouds. We are using BookShark World History 2 this year, and I follow the reading plan pretty exactly. We go over any vocabulary from the instructor's guide, I read, then I ask her the questions from the guide. Finally, we look up any map locations mentioned. 

Then we move on to the next book. 

Today we read from these books:

  • A Cricket in Times Square
  • Usborne Book of World History
  • Child's History of the World
  • The Aesop for Children
  • Cornstalks: A Bushel of Poems
5. Rose is taking the National Mythology Exam this year for the first time, so at this point I read a few pages of D'Aulaires' Greek Myths to help her prepare.

6. Before we leave the couch, she reads a chapter of her current reader to me. She is reading through Sonlight's Grade 3 Readers

7. A couple of days a week (usually Monday & Wednesday) we do Five in a Row. I read our current story aloud to her, then we do a related activity or two. This usually takes about 20 minutes total. If you want to follow along with our FIAR adventures, they are all posted here. Currrently, we are finishing up with this lovely book:

6. By now, it is usually between 10-10:30, so she has a little snack and sets off to do her independent work while I grab someone else to work with. She likes to bring the dog upstairs and camp out on her bed:). 

She does:
  • Flashmaster ~ I give her an assignment to work on throughout the week; this week she is practicing her 5's tables in multiplication.
  • Memory work ~ she has a poem she is working on  memorizing and reads it to herself three times.
  • Handwriting ~ She does a page (or half a page if it's too long) of her handwriting book. 
  • Then she usually spends a bit of time reading the D'Aulaires' book mentioned above to herself.

7. Next up is math. She is using Teaching Textbooks 3. I am usually on hand to help her, but she mostly does the lesson independently, then I check her grade and discuss the lesson with her to make sure she understood it.

8. At this point, if it's a Tuesday or Thursday, I do a science lesson from Home Science Adventures with her and James. These take 30 minutes or less to do, and I love that everything is included that we'll need. We started the year with the astronomy kit, made it to lesson 10, then put it aside for the magnetism kit. The observations just weren't getting done because someone was either tired from practice, or sick... or it was too cold or cloudy to go out. I plan to pick the astronomy lessons back up in the spring!

And that's it for Rose's day! After lunch she has free time, reads, takes her shower, gets ready for gymnastics, or just putters around while the rest of the kids finish up. 

On Fridays, we do none of the above; instead she does a lesson from Artistic Pursuits Book K-3 Book 2, then she usually spends some time drawing on her own. If she has extra time and there is anything she is a bit behind on, I'll ask her to do a little catch-up work, but in general, she has quite a bit of free time on Fridays.

Thanks for stopping by, and check back soon for a mid-year update on my sixth grader!