Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Teaching Tuesday: Three Thematic Units

When I have someone new to home schooling, I like to point them towards thematic units. One of the first things they teach you in your education courses is that children retain things best when they can make connections: when the math is all about what you are learning in social studies, which is also what the stories you are using in reading relate to, and the art, and the writing exercises, and so on, and so on. And, one of the first things you learn when you become a public school teacher, is that you are not allowed to teach that way.

But, I digress.

When you have kids who have been turned off of learning, your first step is to build motivation - to make learning fun, again. I usually counsel parents in this situation to set aside the 'curriculum' for the moment, and start with something their child is interested in. It is a little nerve-wracking at first, feeling like you are going to get way behind if you don't jump in with both feet, but motivation is such a huge factor. If your kids are going to fight you every step of the way, you may just find yourself putting them back in public school, even more behind and with a worse attitude than they had to begin with. Think of it as taking a long car trip - you know things will go so much more smoothly if you take the time to check the car over, look at a map, and pack some snacks, right?

We have a multitude of thematic units, covering a variety of subjects and age groups. The first two I am highlighting come from Teacher Created Materials:

Immigration Thematic Unit

This first is on a 'serious' subject, and one that you can easily relate to the evening news - good for older kids who are asking, "Why do I need to know this stuff, anyway?" Like the other TCM units, it bounces off of several fiction books - in this case, Do People Grow on Family Trees, Molly's Pilgrim, How Many Days to America?, and Hello, My Name is Scrambled Eggs. Unfortunately, the third title is the only one we have here at the library, but if you can't find the others elsewhere, the activities are easily modified to fit a similar book. 

Each book's section comes with a suggested lesson plan (great for those just starting out, who want some sort of organization), followed by extension and discussion activities that go across the curriculum. By all means, add or skip activities that don't fit your child's learning style - there is art, there is math, there is writing. You can interview family members about their ancestry, or figure out the price of items that are 20% off (now there's a good life skill!)

On a lighter topic, for the lower grades, we have:

Clothing Thematic Unit

This unit uses Mary Wore Her Red Dress, which we do not have, and The Emperor's New Clothes, which we do. The first is actually an old folk song, and if you check Youtube, you can find a myriad of videos of people reading it. School off Youtube? Tell me that won't get your child's attention!

Activities include sorting socks with odd or even numbers on them (toss those in a baggie and put it in your purse for waiting-in-the-doctor's-office times!) and looking at clothing words from around the world (derby? kimono? Can you find the country of origin on a map?) Units like this are great for making things fun again, and for finding connections in your daily life.

Finally, for the young man who just wants to explore outside, not sit inside at your makeshift desk all day:

Deserts: An Activity Guide for Ages 6-9

Chapter headings include "Welcome to the Wild West" (in which you will learn about saguaros and petroglyphs), "Deserts Down Under", and "Not All Deserts are Hot". Heck, if you can teach your child to consistently use "deserts" and "desserts" properly, you will make this former copy editor happy, but there is much more fun to have - from animals to cultural groups* to geology. Kids will use every part of the curriculum, and probably drive the adults around them crazy with their new expertise.

* I do wish Navajo sand painting and Hopi kachina dolls - each parts of that group's religion - were not treated as art projects to replicate. Would we consider making a rosary an art project? These pages can serve as a good discussion starter, though, so I'm not going to discount the whole book. Use your judgement!

These are just a few of the unit studies we have available - and, once you have gone through a few of these, you will find it easy to make up your own!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review - Red: a Crayon's Story, by Michael Hall

Red: A Crayon's Story

So, what's 'wrong' with this picture? It took me a minute to notice it, but your kids will probably spot it right away.

"Red's factory-applied label clearly says that he is red, but despite the best efforts of his teacher, fellow crayons and art supplies, and family members, he cannot seem to do anything right until a new friend offers a fresh perspective"

As a former teacher, this simple story immediately made me think of kids who learn differently - his teacher decides he just needs more practice, others say he just needs to try harder. Of course, no amount of practice or trying are going to make a blue crayon color things red! When his true talents are revealed, everyone claims to have known it all along. 

The story is open-ended enough to be relatable to a child who feels different in any way, though. Adults, for that matter, who have gone through similar struggles in their lives, will find themselves nodding or grimacing at some of the other characters' comments ("The masking tape thought he was broken inside").

In addition to its basic messages - being different is great, being true to yourself - Hall offers bright, colorful illustrations (we are talking about crayons after all), and a great vocabulary lesson (Scarlet! Olive!). Not heavy-handed, a good one to just read aloud and let sink in for a bit, perhaps saving discussion for another time.

**Click here for an earlier review of another Michael Hall book, It's an Orange Aardvark.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Finding Spring by Carin Berger

I am SO ready for Spring! I know I can't complain about the weather here, with so many of my East Coast readers digging out the last layer of snow to make room for the next. We are at that I-can't-decide stage, with warm t-shirt weather one day, and light flurries the next. I am chomping at the bit to get some gardening started, and enjoying the warm days when they come.

Finding Spring

This little bear, Maurice, is feeling the same way - and it's only the beginning of winter! He is supposed to be hibernating with his mother, but first he scurries about looking for Spring. Little ones will giggle at his misunderstanding, and feel 'big' that they understand more than he does. Adults will enjoy the beautiful cut paper illustrations, and the colors - just look at that cover! - will help tide them over until the first real blossoms appear.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teaching Tuesday

We have a large home schooling population in our area (including, off and on, our household), as well as many parents who just want/need something extra for their kids in one area or the other. When I first started working at this library, our educational materials were limited to one small section of shelves, non-checkout, and mostly consisted of very old books about educational theory and library skills.

The section now contains almost 1,000 items, ranging from unit studies and worksheets to microscopes and math manipulatives. All of it can be checked out, by anyone. It takes up both sides of one range of shelves, but I find it is still a section many parents are unaware of: so, each Tuesday, I am going to try to highlight something we have available there. Not a review so much as a, "Hey, did you know we have this?"

This first week, I actually want to point out some items in the adult collection:

We had a few of these already, but recently were able to purchase dozens more, on topics from science and history to photography and natural healing. Some include workbooks, like the set above, and some do not. All are DVDs of actual college-level courses on the given topic - not just videotapes of lectures.

Here is a link to the above series, on the company's web site. As you can see, they are crazy-expensive, and even on sale they are not in most home schooling family's budget. I am excited that we will soon (they are in the cataloging process) have these to offer, and I can't take any credit for it - thank our awesome Systems Admin person for spotting the sale and making the purchase! They are/will be shelved in the adult nonfiction in their regular Dewey area - so, the series on Early American History, for example, will be somewhere around the 973 call number.

I know the high school years are a time many home schooling parents approach with trepidation. There are so many possible subject areas, and the years of being several steps ahead of your child have faded. These should give parents the opportunity to invite an expert into their home to offer instruction, while still being able to tailor to their own schedules and needs. Of course, adults will enjoy the chance to explore the varied topics as well! Have fun with them!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: The Genius Files, License to Thrill, by Dan Gutman

The Genius Files #5: License to Thrill

"When we last left our heroes, twins Coke and Pepsi McDonald were in Roswell, New Mexico, and they had just seen a strange beam of light. Now their cross-country road trip is about to take a detour that's out of this world—literally!
Once the twins get their feet back on the ground, they embark on the final leg of their trip, which will take them from the Hoover Dam all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Chased by nefarious villains, the twins will be trapped with a venomous snake, pushed through a deadly turbine, and thrown into a volcano. And craziest of all, their parents might finally believe them!"
This series has been very popular here, so i am not sure why it has taken me until the fifth book to review them. Maybe because as soon as they come in, I hand them off to my favorite very bright, brother-sister (but not twins) pair to read. I might have done the same with this one, had I not been flipping through it and come upon page 81. But, I am getting ahead of myself...

This is a solidly middle grade series. Coke and Pepsi are nearing the end of a family trip that has hit most of the fifty states, taking in all the bizarre tourist attractions across the country (their mother is writing a guidebook of sorts). They also just happen to be genius-level, top secret spies, with assorted unusual bad guys chasing them. Adults will find it a little too over-the-top at times, but they aren't the intended audience. Adults may find the tourist attractions - all real - of enough interest to enjoy the story, and may even feel inclined to follow in some of the McDonald family's footsteps. Until they remember that, as Gutman points out at one point, while the twins have ciphers and mysteries to keep them busy in between attractions, most of our children will not. Bored kids...long car trip...yeah, I'll just read the books.

Which brings me to page 81. I suppose with all the places they have visited, I shouldn't have been surprised to see some familiar sites, but I still had to run around the library showing everyone the picture of McGinn's (ahem - not McGuinn's as it is spelled in the book) giant pistachio.

 While that is not the first thing I would want to show people visiting the area (in fact, I don't think I have ever shown it to anyone), the kids love the Space Hall, which is also mentioned, and Daddy says the Rustic Cafe has the best chicken fried steak around.

Local interest aside, this final volume has the same goofiness (with painless historical and scientific trivia thrown in) that only Dan Gutman seems to get away with. Oh, and the Indiana Jones reference on page 119? Something else for us old people, thanks. Adults will probably see the finale coming, but kids will be tickled by it. None of that is meant to say that the book is dumbed down - just that it reaches its intended audience quite effectively.

And now, G. and K., I have a book for you!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sometimes, I Like People.

Fire in the mountains is a big deal. I mean, nobody smiles when their house is consumed by flames, but when your house sits on the edge of a National Forest, fire is a REALLY big deal. Everybody has a mental what-can-I-pack-in-five-minutes list, along with, hopefully, two routes out to the highway. It's not a paralyzing fear, but something that's in the back of your mind - like earthquakes, if you live in southern California, or tornadoes if you live in Kansas, or Justin Bieber moving home if you live in Canada.

So, when the page went out yesterday afternoon for a structure fire...on a windy day...in our one and only trailer park...which is across the road from our one and only school...people took notice. Fortunately, the fire was contained to one trailer. Unfortunately, while the elderly occupant escaped unharmed, the trailer and all its contents were a complete loss.

That, of course, is not the thing that made me like people again. It's this: within an hour of the fire, the following posts started appearing on the community Facebook page:

"Is the old man that lives there ok?"

"Oh no! How can we help him?"

"Please, how can we help?"

" I called and left a message with the fire department."

"Let me see what I can find out."

That last post was me. I wasn't on the fire call - stuck at work - but Daddy was, and within a few minutes I was on the phone with the land owner, who drove from an hour away to 'see to' the home owner. I got basic info, and posted simply the following to a local for sale page:

"Older gentleman in High Rolls lost his home to a fire this afternoon. He got out with just the clothing on his back. If anyone can spare ANYTHING, I can take items at the public library (children's desk) and get them to him. His clothing sizes are: med/large shirt, size 34 waist, size 9 1/2 shoes. He will need household items as well - I can take smaller things now, not big items yet. Thank-you!"

I had barely hit send when I had a check for $30 sitting on my desk. Half an hour later, a woman showed up with a box of food and kitchen items, her little boy in tow.

"Me and my family can gather quite a bit of stuff together."

"Where can I send some food?"

"Ill bring some cloths by tomorrow gotta go dig them out and wash them"

"I will go thru Tony's things in the morning and come by the library."

"ive got some britches 34 36 if some one come s by to get them and probably more when i look"

and so on, and so on - 62 comments at the moment, and many many shares. You can count our local businesses on one hand, and they all jumped in without being asked - putting out donation jars, offering to be drop-off points. People have offered furniture and appliances once he has a place to move into - and labor to help get that place ready.

One of my favorites came at last night's 4H meeting. About half the kids attend the nearby school, with the other half home schooled. Many have parents in the fire department. As soon as the adult leader brought up the fire, they were all over it.

"What do you think we could do to help him out?"

One young man suggested donating money, but the club president pointed out that they didn't have any. A lemonade stand was suggested. A young lady suggested donating clothes (making for an interesting mental visual). Another young man suggested collecting scrap metal and building him a shelter. That idea was met with much enthusiasm, but the no-fun adults hastily pointed out that he had a place to stay. They finally hit on a canned food drive (much to said adults' relief).

You know, like any community, large or small, we bicker. We gossip, we complain about our neighbor's dog barking (sorry about that, btw, we're trying to train her not to). But, when something happens, and complete strangers, young and old, jump up to help - well, I have enough warm fuzzy feelings to get me through the rest of the winter!

So, today - hooray for people!

Update: There is now a gofundme account set up for Jim, at gofund.me/mc2x0c