Encouraging Reluctant Writers – Happy Mail

Happy Mail

If you have a reluctant writer, you know that getting your child to get even a sentence down on paper can be an exercise in extreme frustration for you both! I explored lots of different ways to get the not-so-enthusiastic writer in my family to write, and one thing I found that worked was to have him write letters! I arranged for my son to write letters to everyone from the president, to family members, to restaurants. He worked hard to get his letters just right and was always excited to get a response tucked in our mailbox. Over the years we saved the letters he received back, and some of them will always be treasures, like the letters from his beloved grandfather who has since passed away.

While working on my up-and-coming language arts curriculum, I was looking for some books to get students writing in a creative way and stumbled across Happy Mail. I will be adding it to my curriculum schedule in the writing assignments. The writing portion of my curriculum is being designed to be a gentle, non-pressure introduction to writing for grades 2-6. I’m taking my experiences with students who both LOVE and HATE to write and incorporating these into my book and resource choices.

Happy Mail is the perfect book to get kids and young teens engaged in the old-fashioned art of letter writing and card making. It starts out with an introduction to letter writing tools – all the fun stuff the artist in me loves like felt-tip pens, card stock, and even the humble black crayon. Some of the supplies call for a craft knife, so an adult will need to supervise or assist with a few of the projects.

The next section covers letter writing basics: parts of a letter, salutations, how to address an envelope, and so on. After that there is a section of simple writing prompts (perfect for kids who would otherwise stare at a blank page for hours), as well as a 30 days challenge with plenty of letter writing activities and ideas for your budding writer.

The next section covers lettering styles. Each letter style shows a complete sample alphabet and is followed by a lined practice page like this:

Letter writing for kids

There are 5 lettering styles:

Paper Cut Alphabet, Brush Lettering, Open Alphabet, Ribbon Alphabet, and a Storybook Alphabet

The book emphasizes that there is no need for perfection, and kids are encouraged to add their own touches and styles to their lettering.

After playing around with some hand lettering, there are several projects that are shown in detail with all of the needed supplies listed. Some of these projects are:

Cut Paper Love Notes, a Quote Note, Emoji Note, I Love You More Than…, a List Letter, Birthday Card, Wildly Grateful Thank You Card, Salty Pretzel Sorry Card, and plenty more for a variety of occasion like holidays, congratulations, etc. There are even simple instructions on now to make a homemade envelope. I like the Letter to Your Future Self idea. It’s something I did when I was a kid, and it’s fun to look back as an adult on some of my younger self’s ideas and dreams!

Letter writing ideas for kids

The last section of the book has some pre-designed cards, notes, and templates with cute and full-color art, along with some black-and-white samples your child can color in.

card projects for kids

Happy Mail is a good book to get your child off the computer and into the world of pens, pencils, and the excitement of sending off a letter or card the old-fashioned way!

Beowulf’s Grammar is Ready!

Beowulf's Grammar Curriculum

Beowulf’s Grammar is ready to go!! We are having a 2-day sale on the Beowulf’s Grammar Bundle (both the workbook and the teacher’s manual). Get both for an amazing $30! After 2 days the sale price is going up to $35, and then, after a week, the combo will be full price ($40 – a 10% bundle discount). Get it now at this amazing deal!

Purchase the bundle here:
http://guesthollow.com/…/beowulfs-grammar-bundle-save-over…/

Want more info on Beowulf’s Grammar? Check it out at:
http://www.guesthollow.com/homescho…/…/beowulfs_grammar.html

Say good-bye to your boring grammar curriculum! Beowulf’s Grammar makes learning grammar FUN!

Homeschool Grammar Curriculum

 

Make an Edible DNA Model

I was just notified that a link to one of the activities in the new anatomy program is dead. I couldn’t find a replacement, so I custom-made an activity sheet to replace it. Here is it for anyone who’d like to make an edible model of DNA with licorice and marshmallows! For those of you who’ve recently purchased the anatomy schedule, please update your printable schedules, if necessary. The online schedules have already been updated! 🙂

Click here to download the activity sheet.

Have your DNA and eat it too replacement activity
This was a really fun activity I did with my kids, years ago. It really helped reinforce their understanding of the chemical base pairs of DNA, as well as the shape of the DNA molecule. Oh, and we all liked the excuse to eat candy during science time! 😉

Big Bag of Science Kit Review

Big Bag of Science Kit

 

The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars!

My teaching philosophy when it comes to science is to make topics as hands-on and engaging as possible. When Otter was younger I invested in TONS of science kits and have always kept a closet stocked with hundreds of different science related items (as well as a bookshelf stuffed full of colorful books on all types of science topics).

Science books

A tiny sliver of our science books…

I still endeavour to make science something like the dessert of our day. Yes, science is harder now, but after working years on building a strong foundation, Otter finds many of the topics we are studying for highschool more like an in depth review of things he’s covered years before. He loves science and I feel like my approach was a big part of kindling that.

Now that I’m helping my friend teach her daughter some homeschool subjects, I get to play some more and watch a new set of eyes light up during “science time”.

Today, Rabbit got to try out the Big Bag Of Science kit. She’s learning about animals from her main science program, but we are breaking things up with kits and extras, as I always did for Otter and my other kids.

The Big Bag of Science is actually a pretty decent sized plastic bag with a woven handle and zipper top filled with most of the supplies you need to do around 70 science activities (some of which are dependent on others, so in reality they are stretching it quite a bit to say it has 70 things to do).

The first thing we did was unpack the bag. Everything was laid out neatly in zip-loc style plastic pouches and a plastic case with indentations to keep things from shifting around. Once it was unpacked it looked like this:

Big Bag of Science Kit Review by Guesthollow!

 

Here’s the “official” photograph of the contents, which is quite a bit nicer than the picture I took:

bigbagofscience2The nice big sheet of color changing paper as shown in the official picture is, in reality, just little yellow strips in our kit.

Some of the items you get in the kit are:

  • Color changing strips
  • Gravity Goo Powder (Linear Polyacrylamide)
  • Insta-Snow Power (Sodium Polyacrylate)
  • Water Gel (Poly homopolymer or sodium salt of polyacrylic acid)
  • Quicksand Powder (cornstarch)
  • Super-absorbent crystals (Sodium Polyacrylamide)
  • Fizzing color tablets
  • Worm Goo Activator (Calcium Chloride)
  • P.T.C. paper (Phenylthiourea-Phenylthiocarbamide)
  • UV beads
  • Garbled marbles (Cross-linked polyacrylamide Polymer gel)
  • Iron filings
  • Worm goo (Sodium Alginate)
  • Assorted equipment like “baby soda bottles”, plastic test tubes, geyser tube, magnet, magnifying glass, plastic wells, petri dish, plastic cups, balloon, metal nut, twister tube, cardboard color wheel, etc.
  • A 30 page instruction guide (feels like it’s printed on something similar to heavy newspaper print and is all text with no pictures) with various activities and experiments outlined step-by-step as well as “How does it work?” information that explains the “why” behind the science

Most of the items are of pretty decent quality. The test tubes and test tube holders are TOUGH and could probably be dropped on the floor multiple times. A few things are a little chintzy, like the cheap plastic pipette, but everything is certainly serviceable. Overall, I think the kit is worth the money. I don’t think you could buy all of the items individually for less (plus it would be a huge hassle rounding it all up, if you tried).

The included items do NOT have enough materials though to do some of the cooler experiments more than once. However, if your budding scientist turns out to really want to do something again, most of the experiments can be purchased in single kits that have enough materials for multiple uses via the Steve Spangler Science website.

The instruction manual gives you a list of materials you will need to obtain yourself like water, paper towels, red cabbage, vinegar, soda pop, D battery and so on. Most of the items are things you would normally have laying around the house with maybe a few exceptions like a 1/2 cup of potting soil and fast growing seeds (radish or similar), Mentos candies, a bottle of diet soda, iron fortified cereal (like Total), and sunscreen.

Little kids won’t be able to do the experiments on their own, but I think the kit would be appropriate for ages 6-12. The package says it’s recommended for ages 8-9 with adult supervision. Having said that though, Otter, my 9th grader, has repeatedly expressed how he wants to use the kit himself and how it looks like so much fun. I guess you are never too old to play science!

Younger kids will need a lot of help, especially with reading through the activity steps, and older kids might need a bit of assistance or instruction, especially if you want to expand on the activities and teach additional concepts or explain the “whys” behind the experiments in greater detail. I would feel comfortable turning an 8 year old loose with it, IF I could trust said 8 year old to read through the instructions and not just start experimenting willy-nilly. At the very least, make sure young scientists are in an area where it’s O.K. to make a big mess and keep things away from little ones who might put things in their mouths, as there are a lot of chemical powders and things like iron filings.

The Big Bag Of Science kit covers a variety of things like physical science, chemistry and biology with even a small smattering of earth science and others.  The kit is what I’d call mostly science PLAY (unless you add to it, as I’ve done), so you couldn’t use this as a curriculum. However, you could use it as a spring-board for introducing various science concepts and as something to pull out to add a bit of fun during your school week.

Big Bag Of Science in Action

Today we tried out the first 3 activities. Some of the activities rely on materials created in a previous activity, so you’ll want to skim ahead in the instructions to see if you should combine some of the activities in one session, as we did today.

Today’s activities / experiments:

Activity 1: Fizzing colors – Rabbit learned what a solution is, what it means for something to dissolve, a little bit about chemical reactions, gases, carbon dioxide and experiment safety. We added in information about exhaling carbon dioxide and how plants give off oxygen too.

Color tablets releasing carbon dioxide and fizzing

Activity 2: Cross-eyed Colors: Rabbit held up the capped tubes with the colored water to the light, crossed them and saw that you can make new colors. Um, yeah, not much of an activity. See what I was saying about “stretching it” to say there are 70 activities in the kit?!

Activity 3: Color Chemistry: Now Rabbit used the colored water from the tubes to mix new colors in some shallow plastic wells. She learned about primary colors, secondary colors & tertiary colors. I also added in some additional information and activities so she learned how light is made up of colors, how our eyes perceive colors, how and why scientists record their experiments and so on.

Rabbit mixing colors:bigbagofscience7

 

Learning to record results:bigbagofscience6

 

Max thinks science is boring…

dog

 

After Rabbit mixed colors, we looked at a prism (not included in the kit) to see how light is composed of different colors and made rainbows all over my craft room:

prism1

 

A rainbow on the wall:

 

prism

Rabbit spent over an hour experimenting and learning and we covered quite a few different science concepts just from 3 simple, yet fun activities!

Final Thoughts:

The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars. It has plenty of activities to spark student interest and nourish a love for science that will hopefully continue through high school and beyond! This type of kit is perfect for helping to set that kind of permanent foundation – one where kids think science is FUN and not a chore. It’s also makes a great supplement or concept starter and a parent who is well-versed in science topics will have no trouble using it as a springboard for all sorts of teaching. It’s also something that will keep kids busy for hours over the life of the kit, even if parents are totally hands-off.

Pros:

  • You get a lot of different materials for a pretty decent price (considering how much it would cost to buy the items individually) in a fairly impressive package.
  • It will probably appeal to a multitude of ages due to the fun factor.
  • There are lots of gooey, messy experiments that will appeal to kids.

Cons:

  • Kids who’ve been doing a lot of science over the years (like Otter) probably won’t learn much from the kit, even though they are likely to have fun.
  • The kit exaggerates how many experiments there are by adding in activities like “Put flowers in water in one of the test tubes” and tries to call that life science.
  • Many of the more fun experiments don’t have enough materials to do them repeatedly and the instructions don’t tell you when you need to save items from one experiment to use in another (so you have to skim ahead).

All-in-all, I think this is a worthwhile kit, especially to brighten up a dull day in your homeschool or to help spark an avid interest in science that gets you out of a textbook and over to the table to learn and have fun!

 

Bible Lapbook and Notebook Pages

I have some new Bible lapbook and notebook printables posted to my site. Twenty-nine pages of activities cover a variety of subjects like purity, character traits, making right choices, etc. I’ve also uploaded some more Bible handwriting and copywork pages in several popular handwriting fonts such as Handwriting Without Tears, D’Nealian and more. Click on the image to go to the free downloadable printables. Feel free to pin the image below at Pinterest or share on your website!

Free Bible printablesP.S. I didn’t forget about posting part 2 to my “Sometimes Homeschoolers Worry Too Much About College” series of posts. I’ll hopefully get to that soon!

 

Extracting DNA from Strawberries Experiment

Today in botany we extracted DNA from strawberries! This is a super-easy experiment with dramatic results.

You need the following supplies:

  • 10 ml (2 tsp) dishwashing liquid (or shampoo without conditioner) – shampoo frees the DNA by disrupting the cell membranes.
  • 90 ml (6 T) water
  • 15 grams ( or 1/4 tsp) of salt (Salt allows the DNA to precipitate because the positive Na+ ions shield the negative charges on the DNA.)
  • 1-2 fresh or frozen strawberries (We used strawberries because they are octoploid – which means they 8 copies of each type of chromosome. That means they have 8x time the DNA of normal cells. Strawberries also have enzymes like pectinase that assists in cell wall breakdown.)
  • Ziploc bag
  • Coffee filter
  • Clear glass or test tube
  • Cup or beaker or similar container
  • Isopropanol alcohol

Instructions:

  1. Put your strawberries in the Ziploc bag, close the bag and then mash them up for a couple of minutes.
  2. In a large container, mix the dishwashing liquid, water and salt.
  3. Pour 10 ml of the dishwashing liquid, water and salt mixture into the Ziploc and mix it with your mashed up strawberries for about a minute. *Note: We actually had to pour in more liquid to get our strawberry mash to liquify. Add as much as you need to make a juice like consistency.
  4. Pour the solution through a coffee filter into a clear glass or test tube. You’ll have more visible results if you can pour it into a skinny test tube, like we did.
  5. Now gently pour in Isopropanol alcohol on top of the filtered strawberry liquid. Pour in 2x the amount of the strawberry liquid. So, if you poured in 4 ml of strawberry “juice”, you should pour in 8 ml of alcohol on top. DO NOT MIX. Just pour it gently right on top of the strawberry “juice”.
  6. As you view the tube (or glass), you’ll see a fuzzy, stringy white precipitate start to bubble up and then gather in a mass as it floats to the top of the alcohol layer. If for any reason you don’t see this, just add a little more salt. This is the strawberry’s DNA! You can poke in a toothpick or other item and spool some of the DNA onto it.

Here’s a picture of our test tube with DNA floating up to the top of the alcohol layer. You can see it clumping up at the top of the liquid with some bubbles.

Here’s a close-up. I’ve circled areas with blue. Look at the lower circle. You can actually see thread-like strands of DNA floating up.

So how in the world can you see DNA when it’s so tiny inside a cell and we wouldn’t even be able to see it with our microscopes? Think of cotton threads. You wouldn’t be able to see a single thread from 100 feet away, but you would be able to see it if it was wound together into hundreds of feet of rope. That’s what happens when you extract the DNA from strawberries. You can’t normally see an individual strand of DNA. However, when it becomes spooled together with all of the other strands via the extraction process, it becomes visible – just like our thread analogy.

This is a great experiment not just for botany but also for biology or a human body study. I think Otter was impressed that he was looking at real DNA!

Learning about Color Theory with Cupcakes

Color Wheel Cupcakes

Today Otter had a lesson in color theory. We made a color wheel featuring primary, secondary and tertiary colors out of cupcakes and frosting! I like scheduling in activities like this into our homeschool, especially on Friday. It’s a great way to wrap up the week and something to look forward to all week long.

Here’s what we used:

  • white frosting in 2 tubs
    • We used Betty Crocker Whipped Fluffy White Frosting. I recommend having 2 tubs on hand in case you need to mix up some extra primary colors in order to have enough frosting to mix up the other colors.
  • cupcakes made from a cupcake mix
  • 6 bowls / small plates to mix frosting in
  • several spoons (a fresh spoon for each new color)
  • food coloring (you need the primary colors red, blue and yellow)

First, Otter whipped up a batch of cupcakes during lunch. He LOVES to cook and bake.

Chocolate cupcakes!!!!!

After the cupcakes cooled he got started on the project! He mixed up 3 small bowls of red, yellow and blue frosting.

Frosting and food coloring

Frosting in primary colors

We set up 9 cupcakes on a plate and frosted the first 3 in the primary colors:

Hey, look! It’s a smurf cake!

The next step was to start mixing the secondary colors. Otter started with a mixture of red and yellow first. Note: you aren’t going to get a deep, rich red using food coloring unless you put in a million drops, so we settled for a pinky sort of red and worked with that.

Mixing red and yellow to make orange

Then he mixed his new color with yellow to make a tertiary color – an orange-yellow:

He continued mixing colors until he completed the color wheel!

First (primary colors):

red, blue, yellow

Then (secondary colors):

red + blue = violet
red + yellow = orange
blue + yellow = green

Then (tertiary colors) :

violet + red = violet-red
orange + yellow = orange-yellow
green + yellow = yellow-green

Mmmmmm….

Afterwards he was free to experiment with the frosting to mix up any colors he desired to frost the rest of the cupcakes.

This is a great hands-on activity for any age. It looks pretty, tastes good and teaches a bit of color theory (so mark it in your homeschool planner as art, or home ec. or both, lol).

So we made a bit of a mess, but…

Cupcake mess!

We also made a great memory (and a yummy dessert, lol)!

Here are some additional color theory activities or resources:

Paper towel color wheel activity

Color theory worksheet

Interactive color wheel

Learning about ratios and proportions

Today Otter explored ratios and proportions using ETA’s Hands-On Math Standards book.

Photograph by Otter!

I handed Otter the bag of plastic square tiles and told him to pretend that each tile measures 1 square foot. I then asked him to build a pretend “porch” in the shape of a rectangle measuring 45 square feet. I told him it takes 3 pints of paint to paint his new porch.

I then asked him to figure out how much paint he would need for just 15 square feet. This is how he found the answer.

Another photo by Otter!

After that I asked him how much paint would he need if the porch measured 75 square feet! He figured he would need 5 pints.

Yep, another picture by Otter

After this activity and a worksheet from the ETA book we talked about changing proportions, like doubling a recipe for cookies. Proportions are now a crystal clear concept instead of a math term to be easily forgotten!

We’ll be doing a lot of hands-on math activities this year to really get ready for algebra next year. You can read about some of the resources I’m using this year in a previous post here.

Fun Fall Vocabulary Activity

I got this fun fall vocabulary activity idea from the Words on the Vine Vocabulary workbook. We were studying words that have the Latin root foli (which means leaf). The page said to cut out the little pictures of leaves directly from the workbook, but they were tiny and wouldn’t have looked very nice with text from the next workbook page printed on the other side.

Instead, I printed out some free leaf templates from Enchanted Learning onto some thick, smooth paper and pulled out our box of crayons. Otter and I got to work (gotta love having an excuse to color). Coloring on that slick paper was a joy. The crayons went on in a heavy, buttery layer. Even my 21 year old daughter came over and helped color the leaves. It was like having a little homeschool flashback to when we’d all sit around the table working on a project (way back when I was teaching 3 instead of one!). Of course I had to tease her though! She looks pretty when she blushes. Wink

After coloring and cutting the leaves out, Otter wrote his vocabulary words and definitions on the blank side of each leaf:

Then he punched holes on the stem side and strung the leaves up on some yarn. We hung the vocabulary leaves on our fireplace as a fall decoration.

I can’t believe we’re already seeing signs of fall! The leaves on our front yard tree are steadily falling and we saw our first V’s of migrating birds numbering in the hundreds just the other day.

If you’d like to do this activity, you can use your own vocabulary words or you can use words with the root foli in them.

I love doing activities like this. They help break you out of the regular routine a little and make schoolwork a bit more fun (and they give you a good reason to break out those crayons, even if your youngest is a teen). Wink

Now every time Otter looks at our fireplace he can be reminded of the words he studied and we have a nice decoration to celebrate the first signs of fall.

Making Math Fun with Hands-on Pre-Algebra

It’s not often that Otter asks to do MORE math. However, after incorporating some recent hands-on pre-algebra activities into our summer studies, I’ve been hearing that quite a bit!

Transitioning from concrete math to the abstract can be a little tough for some kids. It doesn’t have to be though!  Below are some of the resources I’ve used to help make pre-algebra not only tangible, but also fun.

Exploring Algebra and Pre-Algebra with Manipulatives

Learning about integers while playing a game!

Exploring Algebra and Pre-Algebra with Manipulatives is one of Otter’s summer favorites. Chock full of lots of activities, this book even comes with tear-out tiles you can use for some of the games. You do need to copy some of the pages though for things like the algebra dominoes, game boards, and activity sheets.

Otter was having trouble solving equations like “40 – 2X = 6”. Looking at rows of problems like that in his math text just made his eyes glaze over. After playing a game with some math dominoes, he was solving these types of problems like a pro and then asking if he could do MORE. After I picked my jaw up off the floor we played for about an additional 45 minutes or so.

Matching up math domino cards with mom

math integers

Learning about integers the easy way

integers game

Playing a game with mom to learn about positive and negative integers

The Hands-On Equations Learning System

 

Another big hit is The Hands-On Equations Learning System. I honestly think this is Otter’s favorite math “program” he’s ever used. Every time I pull it out he’s enthusiastic and his math confidence soars.

Basically the program takes something that is usually thought of as abstract and makes it totally concrete, helping to lay a terrific foundation for algebra. I really wish I had had access to something like this when I was a kid.

UPDATE: You can now get the Hands-On Equations Learning System via a set of apps and save a TON of money:

Hands-On Equations 1

Hands-On Equations 2

Hands-On Equations 3

Hands-on Equations

Learning how to solve a linear equation

Hands-on Equations is so easy to use and understand. In the above picture, Otter is solving the equation 5X – 3X + 2 = X + 5. In this particular lesson he is learning to take away pawns as part of the set-up process. So, the first thing he needs to do is get rid of 3 pawns from the left (that’s the 5X – 3X part). Once he’s done that, he has things set up and is ready to solve the equation.

The next thing he would do is subtract one blue pawn from each side (because it’s a balance whatever you do to one side you must do to the other!). Finally, he would subtract 2 from both sides (get rid of the red 2 cube and replace the 5 cube with a 3) and come up with the final answer of X=3.

Afterwards he has to check his work. He checks it by looking at the original physical setup, NOT the original abstract equation. This way he understands the concrete meaning of the abstract equation.

The program comes with 3 levels of books and each step is spelled out visually to help you easily teach each concept. There is also the option to purchase DVDs, but the books were enough guidance for me.

I also order the Verbal Problems book that goes with the program. Using this book, he’ll be able to solve problems like the following by using hands-on methods that really help make the meaning and problem solving clear:

Dave had one package of cookies in his bag. Ed received 4 cookies from a friend on the bus to add to the 2 packages that his mother had packed for him. Andy did not eat breakfast that morning, so he had already eaten 2 cookies from his one package of cookies. Each package of cookies had the same number of cookies at the start. When the boys were ready to eat the cookies, they counted a total of 10 cookies. How many cookies were originally in each package?

You can purchase Hands-on Equations from Amazon or Rainbow Resource for around 35.00. It’s one of the best supplementary math purchases I’ve made.

Another hands-on pre-algebra resource I bought is ETA’s Hands-On Standards Math Online for grades 7-8.  You can order physical copies, but I found it easier to use the online version which is basically PDFs you can print out as needed.

Hands-On Standards

“Home” screen for ETA’s Hands-On Standards Math Online

Each lesson has full-color lesson pages as well as black and white student pages to print out and work on. You can look at some of the sample lessons online for free. The only downside to the program is that you have to purchase a lot of manipulatives. Fortunately I already had some of the required items, but I had to search all over the ETA website for the rest of the ones I needed and the cost added up pretty quickly (over $100 bucks for the program and the manipulatives!). I also had to put in a special request for a single order of some algebra manipulatives as they only had a classroom sized set listed on the website. Because of this, I would recommend the other two previous resources, if you are looking for something that is inexpensive, quick and easy to implement your math studies. However, if you really need more, the ETA program is well put together with lots of different “things” to play with while you are learning math that help keep the interest level high.

ETA Hands-On Math: Using fraction towers to find percents

ETA Hands-On Math: Using fraction circles to figure out decimals and percents

ETA Hands-On Math: Figuring out decimals, fractions and percents using colored square tiles.

Just because you’ve got a middle schooler or a high schooler doesn’t mean you have to stop using manipulatives! In fact, for some kids (like Otter), they really help foster a true understanding of higher level math. Pre-algebra doesn’t have to be boring and it doesn’t have to be hard!