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Magic School Bus Science Kit, Mold and Fungi

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Can I just say “Eeew”??! When I set off this year to do a better job helping my kids learn science at home after school, I didn’t know it would involve mold and dead rodents.

Actually, maybe I should blame this on Santa. He bought my daughter a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club  through a 50% off deal from Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Here’s our latest kit:

Mold and Fungi

Mold and Fungi

This is the first kit we’ve gotten that is next to impossible to recreate at home. It came with a bunch of things I wouldn’t know where to buy: petri dishes, test tubes, Agar solution, etc. I guess you could find that on Amazon, but it would end up costing a lot more than $12.

Anyhow, here’s a look at some of the experiments we did:

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

A week later something is growing on the A side!

A week later something is growing on the A side!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

The great news is my kids will hopefully have a better time remembering to use soap. 😉

For more posts about our Magic School Bus science kit adventures, click here.

 

Hot Rocks and Old Crayons

An easy art project for all ages.

An easy art project for all ages.

Got some old crayons laying around? Turn them into masterpieces!

Heat rocks from your garden in the oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. (Smooth rocks work best.) The rocks will be hot to the touch, but not dangerously so. Use hot pads just in case, to protect your kitchen table.

Then color with old crayons. The wax will melt on contact, producing a beautiful paint-like effect.

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What Parents Can Learn from Bronies

Why should I give a hoof?

Why should I give a hoof?

I’m Generation X which means I’m old.( sigh) I guess that’s why I never heard of Bronies until the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony popped up on my Netflix screen. For the uninitiated, Bronies are tween, teen and adult males who LOVE the television series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” created by Laruen Faust, (NOT the previous shows from the 1980s.)

I’m not a Millennial, so my first reaction was “What the heck?” But then the third grade teacher in me had an epiphany. Social Emotional Learning–how to get along with our fellow human beings– is one of the hardest things to teach. For some reason, young men who have previously felt excluded from typical boy society are connecting with this show. They are learning social skills, making friends online and through conventions, and expressing themselves through art, music and charity. Their lives are better, and all because of a cartoon.

I wanted to find out why…

To be honest, I’ve overheard “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” dozens of times while I’m making dinner, but I had never sat down with my four-year-old daughter and watched it with her in its entirety until this week, when she’s been home sick.

From the very first episode, I can see the appeal. The series starts out with Twilight Sparkles being her own worst enemy. She is so lost in books and learning, that she ignores all of the conventional steps needed to make and keep friends. It’s hard to tell if she doesn’t know how to make friends, or just doesn’t care.

Any parent who has struggled to teach kids social skills can relate. “When somebody hands you a book, say ‘thank you’. When you ask someone for a favor, say ‘please’.” Some kids come out of the womb already knowing these things, and others need to be taught explicitly. It’s easier to teach a child to read than to be charming.

As “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” moves along, the episodes sprinkle social emotional learning lessons with other aspects that hold an adult’s attention. There are huge vocabulary words, alliteration, and creatures pulled from ancient mythology. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, although there’s a lot of that too.

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

I talk a lot on my blog about Afterschooling, which is when parents provide meaningful, structured instruction to their children at home to help shore up learning gaps, or provide extra enrichment. Sometimes, for certain children, learning deficits are social. I’ve shared ideas for promoting social emotional learning in the past, and would like to add “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to that list.

It turns out, “My Little Pony” is something to neigh about.

Static Electricity Science

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 26

The Young Scientists Club, Kit #26

I’ve got two new Young Scientists Club kits to review:#26 and #36. I ordered our subscription in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now we get a new science kit every month for a total cost of about $9 a kit.

Kit #26 is about static electricity and is pretty cool, #36 was about famous scientists through the ages and was awful. If that had been our first experience with The Young Scientists Club, I would have been asking for my money back.

Kit 36 was a bust.

Kit #36 was a bust.

The main problem with #36 was that a lot of the experiments needed clay, but the clay the kit came with was all dried up and worthless. That meant that almost every experiment failed, which caused a lot of eight-year-old frustration, which caused mommy-frustration, which pretty much ruined a perfectly good Saturday morning. It was like a chain reaction of awful.

So if you engage in this science-by-mail adventure, don’t order kit #36.

#26: Static Electricity

#26: Static Electricity

Kit #26 however, was pretty good. Some of these experiments you can try at home for free. All you really need are balloons, cereal, and a comb.You just won’t have the nifty script that the kit provides.

Important science fact: When you rub a balloon on your hair, all of the negatively  charged electrons from the balloon jump to your hair. Then the balloon has a positive charge. When the positively charged balloon comes into contact with something that has a neutral charge, like cereal, water, or the wall, electrons from the new item will jump to the balloon.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens when they touch.

There are lots of other static electricity experiments you can do with balloons. Use your imagination and have fun.

Math with a Hello Kitty stencil

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

Do you have any stencils or stickers laying around? Those are the types of things that breed in our playroom.

The other day my four-year-old found her Hello Kitty stencil. I told her, “Let’s do math with Hello Kitty,” and she was instantly intrigued.

Working on the number 9.

Working on the number 9.

For this activity we worked on building the number nine with stickers. This was also a chance to work on the commutative property; 4+5= 9 means that 5+4 = 9.

So unleash your random art junk! I bet “Math with Bob the Builder” would be fun too.

P.S. Can you see the spot on my camera? (I’m a pretty clueless photographer.) Ugh!

Life of Fred Pre-Algebra

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Okay Public School families, this is where I introduce you to something from the Homeschooling world that can be useful for families like ours. Have you ever heard of Life of Fred by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D?

The “Life of Fred” series is a very unusual way to teach math, science, history, literature, and plain old common sense, in an integrated format. Half chapter book, half graphic novel, half textbook (hmmmm… those fractions don’t add up); the Life of Fred books teach through story and humor. The hero of the books, Fred, is a five year-old math professor at Kittens University, somewhere in Kansas.

I’ve been a bit harsh on these books in the past because Life of Fred uses a lot of algorithms early on, especially in the Fractions book. I’m much more of a Constructivist teacher, so too many algorithms, too early, makes me nervous. I also don’t think Life of Fred would be good for “mathy ” 1st-3rd graders who were emergent readers. The reading would hold back their math, which would be very frustrating.

But! If you were to take the opposite type of child, let’s say a kid who loved words, stories, pictures and funny jokes but who wasn’t very interested in math, then Life of Fred is absolutely perfect. I was just talking with a teacher friend last week who was dealing with that exact situation. “Have you heard of Life of Fred?” I asked her. “It’s just what you need.”

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Another important thing to note about Life of Fred is that it is a spiraling curriculum. This means that Dr. Schmidt introduces a concept and then circles back to it later on. So if your child doesn’t quite understand something in chapter one, don’t worry, it will be reviewed again later.

Right now my son is reading Life of Fred: Pre-algebra 1 with Biology. In terms of Algebra, there’s nothing harder than Hands On Equations or Continental Math League. But there is a lot of other stuff, like fractions, decimals, and conversion factors. Kids with strong fifth grade math skills would do fine with this book.

I’ve been reading Life of Fred : Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics  for fun. I’ve also got Hot X: Algebra Exposed! by Danica McKellar on my reading list. It doesn’t hurt for a mom to brush up on math she learned 25 years ago, right?  Luckily, Life of Fred makes that pretty fun.

Butterfly Salad

Math on a plate.

Math on a plate.

Today my 4-year-old and I got out Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook by Marianne Dambra. I am a little disappointed in the book because it doesn’t have step-by-step pictures for children to follow and it uses a lot of food coloring. But the full color illustrations of each recipe are nice.

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Here’s our version of Butterfly Salad. The actual recipe called for dyed cottage cheese, which I thought was gross, so we used grapes instead.

Ingredients:

  • lettuce leaf
  • pineapple rings
  • cottage cheese
  • grapes or berries
  • celery stalk (the body)
  • 1 olive (the head)
  • a carrot or bell pepper (the antennae)

Math Skills Involved:

  • counting
  • fractions (cut the pineapple rings in half)
  • comparisons (more cottage cheese, less cottage cheese)
  • ordinal numbers (first you do this, second you do that, etc.)
  • symmetry (the goal is to make the wings look the same)

This recipe took about twenty minutes to make. My daughter and I both had a lot of fun!


Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook

Magic School Bus Science Kit, Magnets

Hide your infants!

Hide your infants!

Our latest Magic School Bus Science Club  purchased through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op was all about magnets. Thank goodness we don’t have any babies in the house because I’ve very paranoid about small childrend eating magnets. (I get worked up just thinking about it.)

But for a four-and-a-half year old, this kit was fun.

A lot of the experiments involved (included) iron filings, which wasn't as messy as it sounds.

A lot of the experiments involved iron filings, which wasn’t as messy as it sounds.

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Okay, this one was messy when big brother opened up the bag…

The classic "magnet on a car" experiment.

The classic “magnet on a car” experiment.

Making  a compass.

Making a compass.

The total time commitment for this kit was about thirty minutes. It required no unusual at-home materials and was really easy to teach.

But I must confess, I threw all of the magnets away in the trash when we were done. Just in case!

 

The Giggly Guide to Grammar

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One of the “I’m-a-mean-mom” Christmas presents I gave my son last year was The Giggly Guide to Grammar by Cathy Campbell. My eight-year-old would have much preferred another Lego kit, but I had my eye on the Common Core. I know Bruce’s teacher does a lot with grammar at school, and I’d like to support that at home.

I can see why The Giggly Guide to Grammar gets great reviews. It has fun drawings and even funnier sentences. Here’s an example from page 107: “Aunt Sylvia believes Elvis lives because she thinks that she saw him on a commercial for Levis.” (That’s a complex sentence with an anagram, btw.)

Unfortunately, I was hoping this book would be a good fit for Afterschooling, but it really isn’t. The Giggly Guide to Grammar would be great for public school, and it would be awesome for homeschoolers, but for an Afterschooling family it requires too much paper and pencil practice. That would be fine if we were using it during the summer, but for the school year it’s too much work. My goal with Afterschooling is not to load my kids up with extra duties, but rather to encourage them with fun enrichment.

A more passive approach to grammar would be the Royal Fireworks Press book Sentence Island by Michael Clay Thompson.

Perfect for bedtime read aloud.

Perfect for bedtime read aloud.

That being said, I keep finding The Giggly Guide to Grammar all over the house. On the kitchen table, laying in the hallway, in the bathroom (yuck); Bruce is clearly reading this book for enjoyment.

Would YOU read this on the toilet?

Would YOU read this on the toilet?

I’m not exactly sure how much Bruce is learning. I asked him about the book and he said he likes reading the funny sentences. I guess that’s why the full title is “The Giggly Guide to Grammar, Serious Grammar with a Sense of Humor”.

The Giggly Guide to Grammar

Why this Kindergarten teacher is confused by Kindergarten

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Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Herald. We decided to register our daughter for half-day Kindergarten with an intent to Afterschool.

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140216/BLOG5205/140219461/Kindergarten-options-put-parents-in-a-tough-spot

Afterschooling Plan for Working Moms

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Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

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Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

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Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

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Math, 30 minutes

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Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

Science Kits by Mail

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Sorry about the dearth of blog posts recently. Our schedule right now is completely packed. The good thing is that brains are being fed, kids are being exercised, and the house is (marginally) clean.

I still want to do more science with my kids. That’s been on my mind ever since we went to the Pacific Science Center a couple of weeks ago. I just don’t have time to plan anything.

Yesterday, I saw that Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a deal going on with the Young Scientist Club.  I’m not familiar with this particular kit, but we have used a lot of the other products that the YSC also carries, like the one pictured up top and The Magic School Bus kits. Those kits have been fun, educational, and engaging, but not perfect. Every single one we’ve tried had at least one thing about it that I wished was different.

But… The idea of science experiments arriving at our door every single month without me having to do anything is really appealing. Even expecting imperfection, I’m intrigued. My eight-year-old son Bruce is thrilled with the prospect.

So I went ahead and placed an order for a 12 month subscription. The grand total was $157.92. That comes out to $13.16 a month, which isn’t too bad.

On November 25th Homeschool Buyers Co-op starts a similar deal with for The Magic School Bus kits. I’ll probably sign up for that plan too, because it will be a good fit for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.

Unfortunately, shelling out all that money for science kits is really expensive. I would hate for my blog readers to think that Afterschooling is only for people who can afford it.

So here are two top-notch, lower-cost alternatives from the homeschooling blogosphere:

  1. Science Without a Net
  2. Learning to Be a Scientist

I also have some Afterschooling science ideas on my Pinterest Board.

As for our house, guess what Santa’s bringing? Who knew they made science kits at the North Pole!

Finding Time to Afterschool

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I don’t know you in real life, but I’ve got a hunch that your family is a lot like mine in that you don’t have time for gosh darn it, one more thing.

Phew! Just thinking about today makes me crazy. Drop off, pick up, run here, run there; I spent more time in the car than I did reading to my kids in our cozy corner on the couch.

All of our activities seem like a good idea in theory. If I was looking for someplace to cut I don’t know what would be axed. Swimming lessons? Nah. Cub Scouts? No. Homework? Not an option. Afterschooling? Yes and no.

Right now I don’t have the time to orchestrate something really cool like Science Without a Net. Heck, I didn’t even know Farrah had a cool new webpage design.

But I do have time to Afterschool. When life gets busy we go on autopilot. Here are the basics:

My advice is to be kind to yourself and your children. 15 minutes a day of Aftesrchooling will still add up to 120 hours a year (if you do something extra over the summer).

You don’t have to be Supermom. You don’t have to be Superdad. Your goal is to inspire your children to love learning. Sometimes that can be as easy as turning on a CD in the car, or powering up the computer when you’re trying to make dinner.

Can you find time to Aftershool even if you’re really busy? You bet you can! If I can do it, you can do it too.

Every Child is a Special Snowflake

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Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column this morning, from The Everett Daily Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131020/BLOG5205/710209979/Neither-children-nor-teachers-fit-into-neat-boxes

My heart really goes out to kids and teachers right now, who keep getting treated as cohorts with outliers (that must be dealt with!!!) as opposed to unique individuals with unlimited potential.

Every child deserves a personal learning plan. That’s why I believe Afterschooling is so important.