Saturday, September 3, 2016

BLISS (Or What We're Doing for 5th Grade Home School)

Welcome to BLISS!
What's that?

Blossom Lane Institute of Spunky Sparkle.


That's what we decided to name our home school this year. She came up with the spunky sparkle part, because she's all about that. And I love the acronyms. I couldn't resist this one. It sums up what I want our school to be, which is anything but dull and pointless. We're happy to be together.

Every morning we point to the glittery BLISS letters on our school supply bins and chant: "Blossom Lane Institute of Spunky Sparkle!" Then we give a high five and say, "Welcome to BLISS!" 

That's how we start our day. It's the best. And if we hit a little rough spot and get cranky, we go back to our happy chant and start over again.


This year, as with the last two, I only have my youngest daughter home for school. It's been so much less complicated teaching just one than several at a time. She's in 5th grade, so I just love getting to dig in deeper with her.

She will probably go to public school next year. So that means I need to make sure she's up to speed on all of her basic skills, as well as teach her whatever content I want to make sure she gets before I send her off to middle school.

Here's our plan...

For math, we do flash card and oral drill to keep her multiplication facts fluent. She's finishing up a basic math workbook from last year, and then we'll move on to Spectrum 5th Grade math. She does Sum Dog and other math game web sites on-line.

For language arts, she has a Spectrum 5th grade Reading comprehension workbook, a Grammar Minutes workbook left over from last year, the Writer's Express text that I used with some of her older siblings, and a writing prompts journal. I have other resources available for later in the year, but this is enough for now. She's doing creative writing on her own a few times a week on the computer.  Plus, she chooses a novel to read on her own for literature. Right now it's Mr. Popper's Penguins.

I keep her daily books and flash cards in a basket on the floor so I can reach in easily and hand her the next one when we're working together in the morning. I marked the top of each one with the subject so I can find them easily from the top at a glance. I also have a larger basket with other resources we don't use daily but want to have handy.

The real fun for me is social studies. This year we'll be in a world geography co-op on Mondays where she will learn about culture and mapping. There isn't any homework (yay!) so the other four days we get to do our own thing. Last year my goal was to cover world history from the earliest civilizations up through the Middle Ages. We didn't finish the Middle Ages, so I decided to pick up with that again and go as long as we want. Then we'll move on to the Renaissance and Reformation era, which I'm guessing will take us up to Christmas or even beyond. I want to take the scenic route through this period of history since there is so much to learn. We love art and music, and I have a bunch of great children's biographies and historical fiction with important concepts! The public schools do world history in 6th grade, so I'm not worried if we miss some of the later time periods. However far we get, I'll at least leap frog forward to World War 2 and Holocaust studies at the end of the year.

One of the key resources we are using right now is What Really Happened in the Middle Ages, a collection of short biographies compiled by Terri Johnson. So far we have read chapters about Theodora and Alcuin.

This one below is from my own childhood in California. I have several in the series. I wondered as a young home school mom over 20 years ago where these had gone. Oddly enough, I found them in my grandparents' attic in Pennsylvania. I have loved using them with each of my children here in Florida. They are easy to understand with great words to learn for vocabulary. 

So far with both of those books, I have started a spiral notebook for copy work. I jot down several phrases or sentences with key facts for each story and she copies them either while I read to her or later on. I encourage her to use her best handwriting, and pay attention to spelling and punctuation. She also does oral narrations of whatever we read, telling me what she remembers from the story. These are Charlotte Mason approach methods. 

Here is a sampling of some other books we'll be using for the Middle Ages and then the Renaissance and Reformation era.

For science, we are taking the opposite approach. In the past, we've done unit studies on various science topics but they haven't been very comprehensive. I don't know where I found this 5th grade text, but it's a thick and visually attractive book with chapters on all the major science topics to fill in whatever gaps she has. So far we've learned about cells and part of classification for living things.

Our whiteboard easel always comes in handy for science.

We also had a membership at the Orlando Science Center, which just expired, but we managed to pack in four visits in the first few weeks of school, once with two of my grandchildren.

My daughter is an enthusiastic artist. Her favorite YouTube channel is Art for Kids Hub which features drawing videos. She has hundreds of drawings in her portfolio. We organized all of her art supplies into a rolling cart which she stores in her bedroom closet. I think she spent far more on art supplies as the school year started than we did on other school materials. She has dabbled in acrylic paints. We'll do more tie dye this year, and we're both going to learn how to use a wood burning tool. She's already a pro with a hot glue gun.

Like me, she is also an art museum fanatic. We have visited six of the local museums, some of them more than once. Last week, we took a spontaneous trip to one of our favorites, the Morse Museum of American Art, which claims the largest collection of stained glass work from the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his colleagues.

One craft project that we did is making calming glitter jars. That's definitely a lot of spunky sparkle!

She also loves to cook, so she's done several kitchen projects like pancakes, eggs, cookies, smoothies, and other yummy treats. Of course I'm glad she gets extra hands on practice with planning, reading instructions, measuring, food safety, and other practical skills. 

So that's what we've got going so far!

Related posts:

God bless!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Calming Glitter Jar

My youngest daughter is about to start fifth grade at home this week. Last week on her birthday, she went out to breakfast with Daddy near where he works. Afterwards, he brought us to his office so she could meet some of his coworkers. One of them, on hearing that she loves to draw and had received art supplies for nearly all of her presents, showed her a recently completed project, a calming glitter jar. You can turn the jar over, and the glitter will swirl and float gently down, which is both beautiful and relaxing to watch.

We decided to make some. Since we were going to be visiting one of my adult daughters the next afternoon, we decided to bring the project over to her apartment and let her do it with us. Here's how we did it.

We bought a dozen store brand mason jars at Walmart for about $8. These were cheaper than Ball, and had no embossed writing on them, which made them perfect for the project. We also bought clear glue and some bottles of glitter. We also bought food coloring and some extra sets of glitter packets at the dollar store.

We filled our mason jars most of the way with hot tap water and then poured in some clear glue. I started with only two ounces, then added another ounce. It could still use another ounce of so. If you are buying a five ounce bottle of glue, you might want to dump the whole thing in. More glue in the mix means the glitter falls more gradually through the water when you turn the jar over. You can use this step of the process to talk about viscosity. See, we can turn this into a science lesson as well as an art project!

Please note that it has to be clear glue (or glitter glue) or you won't be able to see anything when you shake the bottle.

I screwed the cap back on and shook thoroughly to mix the glue and water. Then I took the cap off again and added glitter. I mainly used large holographic blue glitter. Then I added in fine glitter of other shades of blue, as well as silver and gold. A mix of sizes and and shapes and colors makes the texture more interesting as the glitter swirls in the water.

You can also add a tiny drop of food coloring if you wish. Just an eensy bit or it will get too dark! If you want to get it just right, try formulating the color saturation before you add the glitter! (And while you have the food coloring out, you might do some other experiments, like adding different colors to a tray of milk and swirling them around. More science fun!)

Put the lid back on and shake it again. 

This could be the end of the project, if you like. However, if you are like me or my youngest daughter, you might continue twiddling with it. You can also super glue the lid on if you like. I didn't, because I still want to be able to play around with adding more glue and some big silver glitter.

Here is my jar with all of the glitter settled to the bottom. 

Here I've turned it over and shaken it a bit, so all of the glitter is swirling down and around and up and around and down again.

This is my adult daughter's version. She chose not to use food coloring.

My youngest daughter made hers purple, and we made an extra one with reds, pinks, silver and gold to take to her home school evaluation that evening. It made a creative gift for her evaluators.

She's going to make another one for Daddy.

I love the calming glitter jar on my desk. I find myself shaking it several times a day. It really does the trick at helping me pause and quiet my thoughts. All of the sparkly motion fascinates me.

Apparently the calming glitter jar can be a big help for anxious children, too. Many therapists have their child patients make them during their visits. 

I imagine that playing with the jar might be great hand-eye occupier for a fidgety child too, maybe during read aloud time. So this is a craft project that can make a lasting contribution to your school room.

If you are worried about the glass jar breaking, use a plastic water bottle with the label removed.

One of the blog posts where I found instructions is here: Calm Down Glitter Jar at Happy Home Fairy. You can find various other instructions on YouTube.

Happy shaking!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Fourth Grade Home School and Lots of Links

Hello again friends!

I've already done two photo posts of our school year so far, which you can find here!
Here is a subject by subject update of the most recent several weeks of school.

Social Studies

We have been studying Ancient Egypt for the past few weeks, but haven't made quite as much progress as I would have liked. Part of this is because my sweet new granddaughter was born two weeks ago. I actually planned a lighter schedule with less school days, so we just didn't have as much time as our standard three weeks for a unit. 

I have a lot of related resources on my shelf, but we didn't use many of them because it turned out that they didn't suit our purposes. Some of them were a bit much for her interest and comprehension levels, and others just duplicated each other. In the end, I decided to use the Ancient World textbook mentioned in a previous post as our core resource. 

She also enjoyed Tut's Mummy Lost and Found, a Step Into Reading book suitable for 2nd grade and up. We have an older version that didn't have the full color photos as this one available on Amazon. Then we just read a little and looked at pictures in other books like Eyewitness Ancient Egypt. 

This is an example of reducing my reading expectations to fit reality. Rather than getting an in-depth look at Ancient Egypt, I chose to be satisfied with a basic introduction. If she is aware of the main concepts, can recognize visual images, and knows the meaning of basic vocabulary words, that is good enough for me. I also made a word search for her using Puzzlemaker with these words: archaeologist, architect, astronomer, Cairo, delta, dynasty, Egypt, flood, Giza, Hatshepsut, hieroglyphs, Horus, Isis, kingdom, mummy, Nile, Osiris, papyrus, peasant, pharaoh, pyramid, sarcophagus, scarab, slaves, sphinx, Tutankhamen.

In addition to the books, I bought a Jim Weiss audio CD from my friend Jessica Ivey called Egyptian Treasures: Mummies and Myths. We haven't finished listening to it yet, but it's good! Listening in our van while we're out and about is a great way to make the most of our time. (Jessica would like to sell off her stock of CD's that she purchased to sell as a mission trip fundraiser, and I'd be glad to put you in touch with her.)


We are continuing with our Skill Sharpeners science work book. I like to find YouTube videos to go along with the topics. Right now, she is finishing up the unit on earth science so she watched this clip: "What is a Glacier?".

Our history units cover a bit of science, too, such as how a mummy is prepared, or how a pyramid is built. How did the workers get the massive stones to the top of structure? They used ramps, an example of an inclined plane.

Since my daughter also wanted to find out how household items worked, we checked out some library books on simple machines used at home, as well as more general ones on levers and inclined planes that are used in so many modern objects.


I have to get a little creative with teaching math - and let my daughter be creative too.

In our Guinness World Records math book, a word problem about really long lizards asked her to convert 15 feet 7 inches into just inches. I told her that she needed to multiply 15 times 12 and then add the extra seven inches. For some reason, she couldn't wrap her brain around this even though I went through the basic concept with smaller numbers. "One foot has 12 inches. Two feet have 24 inches. Three feet have 36 inches..." and so forth. No deal. I would need to try the hands-on activity approach. My tape measure wasn't in my tool box, but then I remembered a telescoping surveyor's measuring rod that belonged to my late father-in-law, who was a civil engineer. I got it out of the storage room and extended it to about 20 of its 27 foot range. The feet are divided into tenths, rather than inches, but I figured we could work around that. I showed her how long 15 feet was, and reminded her that each foot has 12 inches. I counted by twelves up to 180 inches as I walked along the rod. She started grasping how foot to inches conversion works. 

Then she had the bright idea of getting out her toy car collection and measuring how far each one could roll alongside the rod. If one traveled 7 feet, we multiplied 7 x 12 to get 84 inches. If it went 9 feet, it was 108 inches. Not only did she have a blast, she enthusiastically made a nine minute video on my iPhone of the whole process as she described what we were doing. She got it!

Another recent breakthrough is that I found a whiteboard & chalkboard easel on clearance for $7.50 at IKEA. She loves to do math problems on it and make more iPhone tutorial videos.

One of my main math goals this year was for her to finish learning her multiplication tables fluently. We plugged away at it little by little with flash cards, apps, and web site games. Finally, she was ready for the One Minute Math Multiplication B drill book and now the facts are coming easily for her! On each page, there is a featured multiplication fact. In the photo above, there is a 7 x 8 and an 8 x 7 on every line, mixed with review of earlier facts. She is zipping through them happily. We tried timing the pages, but she gets rushed and flustered that way. It doesn't take her that much longer when I don't time her and it sure is more accurate, so there's that to think about.

Language Arts

We've kept up with our Daily Grams and BrainQuest workbooks, but I realized we were lagging on independent literature and creative writing for a few weeks. Today I told her to pick out a chapter book to read by herself. She chose an adaptation of Little Women and we set the timer for 20 minutes of independent reading. She read two chapters out loud. Yesterday, I told her to write a paragraph on anything, and she chose, "If I Could Have Three Wishes." Ice cream truck anyone? She asked me what I would wish for. I said I would like to have all of my children be happy, well-adjusted, kind, and responsible. She groaned and told me to think of something fun instead. That didn't take long. How about an all expenses paid trip to meander around European art museums and the countryside for a few months? Yep, that would be me. Awesome field trip, eh? Someday - in my dreams at least!

Fine Arts

Talako Indian Dancers
Speaking of art museums... My daughter loves them, too! That makes me a very happy mommy. Last Friday, after watching a performance of the Talako Indian dancers in a park, we went to the nearby Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus of Rollins College. It's not a big museum, but it's free. One of the exhibit rooms was not suitable for children due to mature photographic content. Oops! However, in another more family friendly area, they provide clipboards and art materials so kids can sketch sculptures.  

The next day, we went to the Artlando festival. We weren't impressed with the outdoor booths, but the Orlando Museum of Art was offering free admission during the festival. She had already been begging me to go there, so this was a big win! We're planning a trip to the Albin Polasek art museum soon.

Look closer at the detail from the left hand side of "Just Discovered" by Carlos Vega. Stamps!

My daughter took this photo of the Chihuly glass piece.

So we love art appreciation, but she's also REALLY getting into drawing. She found the Art for Kids Hub channel on YouTube and she's been drawing from their lessons every morning. This is such much better than using a how-to-draw book - of which we have plenty - because of the motion and interaction. Art is also good therapy for her. It gets her brain into a calm and creative mode before we start the rest of school. Here are two of her birds, colored with oil pastels.

Blue Jay


I took several hours this week to update her school records with all of the books read and work book pages completed. Then I planned out what we need to work on next, which is a unit study on Asia. I do all of this in Evernote on my laptop, which makes it easy to update from my iPhone Evenote app since the files are synced. I love Evernote for so many things!

That's it for now!


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Two More Weeks of Fourth Grade

We are just about to finish our fourth week of fourth grade and I can't believe it has gone that fast! Two weeks ago I wrote about the start of our school year. We are doing much the same as we were then, but we've added in a few new things.

The big thing is that I bought an annual family membership to the Orlando Science Center. They have a mega-screen Cinedome theater that is several stories high, and we've already watched the movie on humpback whales, which was fascinating and inspiring. We visited several of the exhibits.

In the weather area, she stepped into a hurricane tube and hosted a mock TV weather report. We are meeting my oldest daughter and her three young sons there tomorrow.

My daughter loves activities and getting out of the house. One of her other adult sisters took her to the beach one afternoon as a belated birthday present. I guess that counts for both nature study and P.E.!

We also switched up our morning schedule a little. She loves to start the day with an informal spelling activity. I've had the book You can Teach Your Child Successfully Grades 4-8 (affiliate link to CBD) by Dr. Ruth Beechick forever. She includes common word spelling lists, grouped phonetically, for grades 4-6 and 7-8. We are working our way through section by section. I read the word to her, and she spells it orally and gives me a sample sentence to go with it. If the word can mean more than one thing (such as band), she does one for each. If the word has a homophone (such as weight and wait) she spells both and gives sample sentences. If the word is a root, we try adding prefixes or suffixes to it. This is casual and interactive, and we have a lot of fun with it.

For math, I found the Guinness World Records Math 4th Grade (affiliate link for CBD) workbook for $4 on clearance at Staples. Each page spread has information and pictures about a world record, which is often science related, so it is cross-curricular. Then the student figures out several word problems using the data in the article. In the first lesson, we did multi-digit subtraction with regrouping, multiplying by 10, rounding, and creating a table, all based on animal eyesight records. This is a practical application supplement to our regular math workbook.

On the computer, we enjoy the YouTube channel Full Time Kid with Mya. She shows how to do all sorts of fun and educational stuff like making brownies in a mug (our home ec class this morning) and multiplying by 9 using your fingers. This is something my daughter can watch when I can't work with her for a while.

We've started our history unit study on Ancient Egypt a few days ago. So far we've read a long section from the Ancient World text, as well as several pages from an Usborne book and several pages from a book about pyramids. I was going to say that we'll rev it up a bit more next week, but then again, it's quite likely that my fifth grandchild (first granddaughter!) will be born sometime in the next several days. I'm prepared to relax our academic schedule next week so we can join in the celebration and new mommy assistance!

How is school going for you so far?

Virginia Knowles

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