Asia Continent Box

This semester, Asia is the topic of homeschool geography that my children chose.  Inspired by the Montessori method, I decided to create a continent box to go along with our studies.  It took me the entire summer to gather everything we needed, but the time and effort has certainly paid off.  Our Asia continent box is filled with treasures that my children will love learning with!

I started by finding Montessori printables.  I purchased maps, three-part cards, and a cultural photo flip album from montessoriprintshop.com.  I also found some other free items using Pinterest: Chinese number flashcards, Asian animals cards, and flags of Asia sheets.

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Then, I chose the books for our continent box.  From top to bottom: Usborne: Stories from India, Usborne: The Story of Islam, National Geographic Food from Another Country, Celebration: A Book of Jewish Holidays, Top Secret Adventures: Japan, Top Secret Adventures: Thailand, Top Secret Adventures: South Korea, Under the Ramadan Moon, The Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions, The Usborne Introduction to Asia, The Usborne Book of Peoples of the World, The Usborne Children’s World Cookbook, Buddha at Bedtime, Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh, and Japanese Macaques.

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From there, it was just a matter of finding reasonably priced items from Asian countries and other creative resources to include.

Asian Postcards

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Israel: A Menorah, Israel coin candle holders, Star of David token, and a dreidel.

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An oil lamp from India, Buddhist prayer beads, a peacock feather, and a Russian Matryoshka doll.

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A Japanese teapot, chopsticks from China, two hand-painted spoons from Hong Kong, “good luck” hanging souvenir from Singpore, hand mirror from Japan, Japanese Kimono doll, toy rickshaw figurine, pencil pouch from Japan, and a coin/cosmetic case from Japan.

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Melissa & Doug Sushi Set, Places of the World Sticker Book, and Extreme Dot-to-Dot: Around the World.

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Currency bills and coins from Indonesia and free Asian currency printables from homeschoolcreations.blogspot.com.

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Asia GeoPuzzle, 10 Days in Asia board game, Rand-McNally Facts & Landmarks Flashcards and Games, WorldWise Asian Geography Card Game, Toob animal figurines: rhinoceros, elephant, camel, and tiger, and Toob landmarks and world figurines: Buddha, the Great Wall of China, and Taj Mahal.

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Islamic prayer rug, Batik fabric, and a Batik gift bag.

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Batik clothing and a traditional Java tribe hat called a Blangkon; from Indonesia.

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Wall map, Bandung newspaper, and magnets from Indonesia.

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Not pictured: Smelling jars of black pepper, cinnamon, cassia, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric, and chili powder.

A very special thank you to our friends and family in Asia who so graciously sent some of these amazing items!

Top 5: Questions from New Homeschoolers (West Virginia)

A new school year is quickly approaching or perhaps has already begun for many of you.  This is a stressful time for all homeschooling parents, as we feel the pressure to be organized and prepared for an entire year.  New homeschoolers may be feeling even more of a panic simply due to fear of the unknown.  This is completely natural and it is the perfect time to ask questions and receive support from more experienced homeschoolers.

Below are the most common questions that I answer for those who are new to homeschooling:

  1. Where should I start?  If you haven’t already done so, it is very important to familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschooling laws.  In West Virginia, those laws can be found at wvhea.org.  An understanding of the laws will ensure that you are not taken advantage of and that your family is always in compliance.  From there, it is a good idea to seek out other homeschooling families in your area; perhaps a support or cooperative learning group.  You will also need to have a sense of how and what you want to teach your child, as well as how and what your child would like to learn.
  2. What curriculum should I use?  This is always a tough question for me to answer because curriculum is so individualized to a child’s needs.  It is best to begin by researching the different methods of homeschooling and also the different learning styles.  Those will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for.  Then, there are two major dividing lines in homeschool curriculum right now that will help you narrow down the remainder.  First, specify in your search whether you’re looking for religious or secular curriculum.  Second, if you have concerns about the new Common Core State Standards, seek curricula that will remain independent.  There is a great list of those companies on the Education Freedom Coalition’s website.  Homeschoolers in West Virginia also have the right to request use of available county textbooks and applicable education materials.
  3. What records do I have to keep?  In West Virginia, you are not required to keep records of grades, attendance, or anything else.  Of course, you’re free to do so for our own personal use and on the high school level, it is a good idea to create transcripts for college-bound homeschoolers.  If you decide on the portfolio option for your end-of-the-year assessment, just be sure to keep the child’s work samples and specific lists (ex: reading, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc.) that you want to include in it.
  4. Which assessment option should I choose?  This is another matter of what is best for your child.  If you choose standardized testing in West Virginia, your child can test with a homeschooling organization such as WVHEA or you can register your child and send him to a public school to take the state’s WESTEST.  If your child has test anxiety or you feel for any reason that testing would not be a good fit for him, portfolio evaluation is an excellent option.  A portfolio contains samples of work from the five subjects required by law (in West Virginia) and shows the progress made by your child throughout the year.  You take the portfolio to a certified teacher, have it evaluated, and receive the form that you need to submit to your county’s Board of Education by June 30th each year.  WVHEA keeps a list of portfolio evaluators and it can also be found at wvhea.org.
  5. What if my child fails?  Will they make me send him back to public school?  First, it is important to understand that your child does not have to maintain a certain grade point average while homeschooling in West Virginia.  Your child’s goal now is to make progress during each school year.  In the case of standardized testing, your child’s first test will be his baseline percentile and in the year after, his goal is to improve upon his score.  There are steps that homeschooling parents must take in the event of acceptable progress not being shown, but those do not give the county the right to force your child back into public school.  As I explained after the previous question, the work samples contained in a portfolio should show that the child made progress during the school year.  There is no real pass or fail.  If progress is shown, the portfolio is successful.  Remember, you can do both so that you will have a portfolio evaluation to turn-in, in the event that you are unhappy with your child’s test scores; however that would not be an option if the child tests with the public school system.

The Easy Homeschool Portfolio

If you haven’t already read it, check out my earlier blog post, How I Got Organized for the New Homeschool Year.

I began by gathering everything I would need to create my son’s second grade portfolio: A two-inch binder, dividers with tabs, sheet protectors (I used 85), a glue runner, a pen, relevant pictures from the year, printouts of grades from any online programs completed during the year, and all of the work that my son completed throughout the year.  *If you’re using the file box system with lesson plans, simply pull the work that you want to use.*  Then, I arranged all of the work into 5 piles: Math, Reading, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.  I also used my computer and printer.

Portfolio Supplies

Next, I created several pages in a Microsoft Word document and printed them.

  • Curriculum List
  • Field Trips and Extracurricular Activities List
  • Educational Games List
  • Educational Films and Programs List
  • Reading Lists for each subject
  • Cover Sheet for binder
  • Short summaries of the year for each subject

I labeled 5 dividers (Math, Reading, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies) and placed them in the binder.  Then, I put 15 (16 for Language Arts) sheet protector pages after each divider.  I always fill the page protectors on both sides, so that 2 pages (or the front and back of a double-sided page) show in one sheet.  I placed the curriculum list, field trips and extracurricular activities list, educational games list, and educational films and programs list into sheet protectors and put them in the very front of the binder.  I also placed the summaries, reading lists, and printouts of grades into sheet protector pages and put them in the fronts of their sections.

I went through each stack of work (except Language Arts), one subject at a time, choosing 10 samples each from the beginning, middle, and end of the year.  It’s a great way to display the progress that your child has made.  I then filled the page protectors appropriately in those subject’s sections.

I divided the Language Arts stack of work to make 4 separate stacks: Grammar, Spelling, Handwriting, and Writing.  I selected 8 pages from each of those subcategories (again from the beginning, middle, and end of the year) and placed them into the page protectors.  There are 4 page protectors for each Language Arts subcategory.

I then added some great pictures from throughout the year.  Displaying art projects, science experiments, and hands-on work through pictures is a wonderful way to show the reviewer things that you cannot fit into a portfolio.  I glued the photos to white paper, labeled them, and put them into protectors as well.  Then, I placed them into the binder, wherever they seemed appropriate.

Finally, I slid the cover sheet into the front window of the binder and I was finished!  I like to include a picture of my son on the cover page.  I intend to keep his portfolios and the cover pictures will create a nice timeline effect.

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Feel free to comment with questions below!

Autism and Child-Led Learning

There are two things that I am absolutely certain of when it comes to educating my son who has autism: 1) Homeschooling is the only option and 2) I must follow his lead.  The first realization was a breeze for me, as I decided to homeschool our children before they were born.  The latter; not so simple for this micromanaging mom.

I spent two long and frustrating years trying to force my son to adapt to the curriculum that I had chosen for him simply because it fit my learning style.  All he wanted to do was read books, watch films, and tell stories about whatever topic he was interested in that day; geography, weather, Star Wars, and so on.  He became very resentful of me for not allowing him to study what he was passionate about.  Looking back, everything that I was doing was completely ridiculous because it all contradicted the reasons that I chose to homeschool in the first place.  Live, learn, apologize, and move on.

When I finally saw the light, life became so much more peaceful in our home.  My son wanted to learn, all of the time.  All I needed to do was let him; and so I did.  No more timetable schedules and no more planning out each day for every subject.  While I am still providing curricula for him, he is free to choose the topics that he wants to study for each subject.

Typically, his topic of interest will either fall under the category of science or social studies.  I begin by searching for the best unit study that I can find and then we head to the library to borrow every applicable book.  If I can’t find a unit study, I create one.  I also search for documentaries and other films related to his chosen interest.  We travel, play games, surf the Internet, and have fun.  Tweaking language arts and math is often as simple as using sentences, spelling and vocabulary words, and story problems related to his topic.

Every single day may not be perfect, but the beauty is that we can change anything that causes discomfort and immediately move on to something beneficial.  Open-mindedness to allowing your child to guide you greatly minimizes high-stress moments and traumatic meltdowns.

Homeschooling is easier now than ever before.  My son’s education is about him, not me.  I’m here to ensure that he has everything he needs to pursue what he loves.  While our days are more relaxed, he is excited and absorbing a wider variety of knowledge.  He is happy, I am happy, and as always, he is learning and loving life!

Asperger’s, the Media, and My Superhero Son

Every parent understands that naturally defensive and protective feeling that arises when one feels her child is being attacked; even indirectly.  That’s how I felt, once again when I decided to check the national news headlines this morning.  Months later and there it was again: Newtown, Adam Lanza, 20 children murdered, Asperger Syndrome.

Please don’t get me wrong because we DO still need to be talking about it and I am horrified by the event and tragic loss of life.  I’m on the defensive because the media continues to connect only Asperger Syndrome with a severely mentally ill mass murderer.  It is quite obvious that Adam Lanza had problems far beyond Asperger’s; a developmental, neurological disorder (not a mental illness).  Imagine for a moment how difficult it is for children with Asperger’s to maintain a state of balanced well-being while society is stereotyping them as monsters.

As frustrated as I have been since seeing the CNN homepage earlier today, I have remained focused on the positives while homeschooling my 8-year-old son, who has Asperger’s and working on a unit study for children about Asperger Syndrome that I am currently writing.  Then, something fabulous happened that inspired me to drop everything and write this blog post.

I gave my son an independent assignment to work on while I made lunch.  When he gave it back to me, I knew immediately that I should share it with all of you.  Allow me to give you a closer look at Asperger Syndrome through someone who truly knows what he is talking about…

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Sew Ready for My First Sewing Retreat!

This Friday, I’m leaving for a 3-day, 2-night sewing retreat.  Along with enjoying great company and delicious food, I plan to check-off a large amount of items on my sewing to-do list.  I’m sharing my goals here so that I have a little more motivation to cross the finish line before I return home Sunday evening.  Here’s the plan:

  • 2 pairs of Oliver + S Bedtime Story Pajama Pants for my daughter; one in a Disney Princess theme and the other in a Batman theme.  She’s a very eclectic 2-year-old.
  • 1 pair of Oliver + S Sleepover Pajama Pants for my son, in a Batman theme.
  • 1 Elmo tote bag for my daughter.  She wants a bag for the library.
  • 1 Oliver + S After School Shirt and Pants for my daughter.  This will be my first time working with denim.
  • 1 Oliver  + S Art Smock for my daughter.  This is from the Oliver + S: Little Things to Sew book.  If you don’t have it, buy it!  It’s awesome!
  • 1 pair of Oliver + S fleece mittens for my daughter.  These are also in the Little Things to Sew book.
  • 2 Spring Peasant Dresses for my daughter; one in a Hello Kitty theme and the other in a blue/green mod floral.

I think I can!  I think I can!  I’ll be back next week with pictures!

PS- You can find all of the Oliver + S patterns that I mentioned above at http://oliverands.com/category/oliver-and-s-patterns.html

Create: Top 10

The Items That Every Scrapbooker Needs

Paper Cutter – Don’t go cheap on this purchase!  A low-quality paper cutter will leave you with inaccurate measurements, unfinished cuts, and rough edges.  I have used many and the only two that I recommend are the Fiskars 12” Classic Rotary Paper Trimmer and the Making Memories Folding 12”x12” Paper Cutter.  I love the Making Memories cutter because it has a rotary blade, but is self-sharpening, and comes with a magnetic ruler.  However, the one I had did break after one year of use.  The Fiskars cutter (which I am currently using) seems to be tougher and is doing an amazingly accurate job!  Both are in the $50-$60 price range, but I always purchase mine from Michaels or Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores with a 50% off coupon.

Adhesives – Glue runners, a fine point glue pen, glue dots, photo tabs, and foam tabs are all items that I use each time I scrapbook or create cards.  Adhesive foam squares or dots are great for giving your designs a 3D appearance.  The best advice that I can give you about adhesives, especially glue runners: You get what you pay for!  You will have no problem finding $1 glue runners, but please remember that low-quality items are not going to last as long as a good-quality product and could damage your materials.  I recommend TOMBOW permanent adhesive refillable runners.  They contain more strong-bonding adhesive than any other runners that I have used.  I also tend to buy these with a coupon or in bulk (online).  With whatever you decide to purchase, be sure that the product is acid-free!

Paper – If I need a specific design, I will typically buy it from wherever I can find it.  Any other time though, I purchase my paper from Close to My Heart.  The quality is excellent and the designs are always fabulous!  Each thick sheets of paper has 2 designs on it, front and back.  You can purchase Close to My Heart items online or from one of your local representatives.

Cardstock – I love to buy the Recollections cardstock packs from Michaels, especially when they are on sale.  I make a point to stay stocked with as many colors as I can find there.  You never know when you’re going to need a certain color to match a great paper design.  I most often use cardstock from Close to My Heart that coordinates with their matching paper.

Ink –You will definitely need ink pads for stamping and distressing and fine-point markers for drawing, writing, and journaling.  These are also items that I only buy from Close to My Heart because of the excellent quality and huge variety of colors they have to offer.

Stamps – For me, stamps are the best part of papercrafting!  I do not like rubber stamps, though I do have a few that I use if needed.  I always purchase acrylic stamp sets now and mostly from Close to My Heart.  If they don’t have something that I need, I can usually find something that will work from a craft store.  I’m not really brand specific outside of Close to my Heart, as far as stamps are concerned.  Don’t forget to buy or make stamp cleaner!

Embellishments – Most often, I embellish my scrapbook layouts and cards with ribbon, buttons, paper flowers, brads, and adhesive sparkles and pearls.  I want to discourage you from wandering the aisles of your local craft store, buying any and all embellishments that you think are adorable.  I can assure you that by doing so, you will build a stockpile of unused and unwanted items.  Keep it simple and basic when you’re just starting out and making new purchases.  Often times, I don’t need to purchase pricy packages of embellishments.  The common items that you keep, along with your stamps, will typically give you the look that you want.

Punches – Don’t stress over buying too many paper punch designs.  A corner rounder is a good one to buy, not just for what its name implies, but also for scalloping edges.  You’ll also want a small round punch to use when you’re embellishing with brads.  I like to use Fiskars Spring-Loaded Punches/Eyelet Setters.  You’ll want to buy a small mat to protect your table, if using spring-loaded punches.

Die-Cut Machine – I debated over whether or not I should put this one on the list.  I decided to go for it because I just could not imagine scrapbooking and card crafting now, without my Cricut Expression.  I have only ever used Cricut machines, so I cannot offer a review on any other.  Now that I have quite a collection of cartridges, I feel as if my design possibilities are endless.  I also use my Cricut for homeschooling and creating party and gift wrap supplies.  I obviously don’t think that every beginner should rush out and buy a Cricut, but if you’re getting serious about papercrafting, check them out!

Lighting – If your crafting area is a dark den like mine, you’ll need a good natural light source.  After doing some research, I bought an OttLite Tulip Desk Lamp.  It is bendable and can either light a section of your room or just the specific spot that you are working with.  I also use it when I’m sewing.  You can typically find a good selection of OttLites at Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores.  Once again, clip a coupon!

I Read Banned Books.

Banned Books Week starts tomorrow and runs through October 6th.  It is important to me that my children love to read and practice their freedom to read.  I have always felt a connection with banned books.  They are/were banned because they are thought-provoking.  They make one question what is “normal”; what one thought she already knew.
“A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to.” — Laurence Peter

Here is a small and maybe surprising list of banned/challenged children’s books that I hope will inspire you to read something amazing with your child(ren) this week:

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.” — Ray Bradbury

How I Got Organized for the New Homeschool Year

 

At the end of the last homeschool year, I decided that I wanted to put more effort into being organized and prepared for the next year.  I began searching for creative ideas in order to do just that, over the summer. 

After choosing and purchasing my son’s second grade curriculum and books, I decided that I would use a file box system to organize his work to be completed.  As you will see in the pictures below, I bought hanging file folders and manila file folders.  Each colored hanging folder represents one week and each manila folder represents one day.  There are five labeled manila folders inside of every hanging folder.  I also bought two files boxes and set-up 18 weeks in each box.

Then, I went through all my son’s new books, designed a daily/weekly schedule (also pictured below), and started making simple weekly lesson plans.  As I completed the plans for each week, I copied the needed worksheets and filed them appropriately.  I also filed the exact number of writing paper sheets that he would need for each day.  In my lesson plans, I noted which supplies are needed for hands-on activities.  All of our supplies are organized in storage areas of our house and ready to be grabbed when needed.  When my project was complete, everything I needed was right at my fingertips.  No stress and no additional, serious planning needed during the school year!

One of the storage areas for our homeschooling supplies. This one contains mostly manipulatives and my daughter’s busy bags.

As for the weekly lesson plan charts, I keep them in page protectors, inside of my homeschool control binder.  The binder also holds curriculum progress sheets, our detailed daily schedule, a field trip log, an extracurricular activity log, a reading/book list, my son’s passwords for his computer activities/lessons, and our homeschool calendar of events.

One of the best things about this system is that preparing for my son’s end-of-the-year portfolio evaluation will also be stress-free.  Each day, when he completes his work, I file it all back into place.  I’ll know exactly where everything is when it comes time to start pulling work samples for his portfolio.

Our everyday supplies, kept in our learning area.