Friday, February 29, 2008

BYU Campus: Science Fun

My husband has spent some of the week recruiting on all of the college capuses around here, trying to find geologists for his work to hire. Beeper and I went along for the ride today to the Eyring Science Center on the BYU campus. The lobby (on three levels) is fulls of fun science experiments for kids to play with. Most of them were beyond Beeper's understanding, of course, but we had fun messing around anyway. There's a large pendulum in the middle of the lobby that he liked to watch swing back and forth. I think that was his favorite thing. Maybe we'll have to start studyig pendulums sometime, eventually workng our way up to purposes and chaos pendulums. There was an optical illusion created by a very curvy mirror. It projected an image of a light and a dollar bill onto a pedestal. I picked Beeper up and let him try to grab it for several minutes. Too cool! There was a set of musical pipes made out of PVC, the classic tornado in two connected two-liter bottles and a vortex cannon (a drum you can beat to create wind). They even had a couple of parabola discs set up on either side of the third floor to communicate across the room. We tried them out when firebirdluver came out of his meeting, but couldn't get them to work. Of course, there were also many, many cool rocks to look at.

I think we'll have to go back when Beeper is a little older as a science class field trip. Maybe we'll go back several times with a different focus each time. Since his grandparents live in Utah County (grandma teaches at Provo High - across the street from BYU) we should have plenty of opportunities. I would think many universities have fun learning opportunities for kids like that. I know BYU campus also has a fun (and free) natural history museum we'll have to visit sometime too. Does anyone else have a university or fun museum or anything similar that they like to take their kids to for learning fun?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Snow Day

This afternoon Beeper wanted to go outside, so I thought we'd try snow painting again. It went much better this time, and we had a good time. All snow paint is is water and food coloring in a spray bottle. It's a great art project for a toddler, because it's essentially free, no clean-up (except snowy boots), you don't have to worry about whether to save the finished piece, and using the spray bottles is supposed to be good for developing motor skills. I did have to remind him several times to only point it at the snow. I have fond memories of it from my own childhood. Although, I was a bit older, so it was less abstract expressionism, more for coloring snow sculptures.

Speaking of snow sculptures, Beeper wanted to keep playing outside, and it was warm enough, so we decided to build a snowman. Our first snowman together - how exciting! He's got a couple of books about snowmen that he really likes, so he was pretty excited about the idea too.

We kept it Beeper-high, because I knew his enthusiasm for the project wouldn't last long (it didn't). Lacking coal, we used chocolate chips for the face. Seems like I got the idea from Andrea. They didn't stay on very well, though.

After we came back in, he was just like the little boy from The Snowman. Every five minutes he would say, "I look at our snowman," and run over to look. We started packing for our trip to Utah (we leave tomorrow), and he really wanted to pack the snowman and take it with us.

I told him he could pick some toys and books to take. He grabbed a couple of trucks and was looking around for the bag to put them in. I hadn't gotten it out yet, so I told him, "Why don't you put anything you want to pack on this chair here." He said, "Okay," and put the trucks on the chair. Then he said, "I like you thinking, Mama."

All in all, we had a pretty fun day today. Probably the most fun we've had all winter.

Leap Frog

Beepy requested this morning that we get out the lilly pads and play leap frog (actually, he called it Frog Hoppers, confusing it with this game, which he is also very fond of). The lilly pads are carpet samples (about 1' x 2 1/2'). We lay them out on floor in a row with several inches of space between each one, and he hops from one to the next. He was having so much fun hopping, he didn't want to stop for storytime, and as soon as he was up from his nap, he wanted to hop some more. He's building gross motor skills, but more importantly, he's working off that saved up all winter energy.

I love these mats. I think we bought them for a couple of dollars a piece, but I have heard you can get them free from a carpet store if you play your cards right. I've seen them used at a library for storytime and a church nursery for singing time. The kids love pulling them out and throwing them onto the floor to sit on, so I think we will get a lot of milleage out of them.

I also pulled out my old Waldo book this morning, and we looked at that. When I showed him the picture of Waldo and told him we could find Waldo on every page, he gave me a crisp, "No," which didn't surprise me. He enjoyed flipping through, looking at the pictures, though. There's so many funny things you can spot on each page in Waldo books. His favorite page was the Nasty Nasties. He's really into ghosts and witches. Go figure.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sewing Success

I finally found an activity Beeper likes. After I ordered the sewing block at Amazon, I started wondering whether it was such a good purchase afterall. The shipping turned out to be a bit high, and since it's from a third party seller, it doesn't qualify for super-saver shipping. I had ordered it in haste, seeing that there were only three left in stock. There are plenty of other sewing-type activities he could use instead.

It arrived today, though, and I have decided with was worth it. Beeper hasn't really been into any of the activities I've come up with for him so far - the matching cards were a bust, threading pieces of felt onto a ribbon was a bust, etc. We'll try those again later, but for now, he's just not into it. He loves the sewing block, though. He was quite happy to sit and thread the wooden needle through all the holes. Of course, he spent just as much time putting it in and out of the little box, taking the lid on and off of the box, and putting other toys into the box, which he would then hand to me and say, "I got you a present, Mama!" Oh, and of course, swinging it around was fun too. Not sure if I'll let him keep that up.

I haven't set up his shelf/box yet for school, but when I do, this will definitely be one of the activities to go on right from the start.

The Books

Here's a run-down of the books I plan on using over the next year for school:

The main curriculum will be from Hands on Homeschooling. There are three suggested activities a day, five days a week for nine months. She also has a list of alternate activities in the back, in case one won't work or you just need more activities. I also like that one of the activities everyday centers around a Bible story. The same Bible story is covered every day for a week with different activities. This is why we picked up:

I wasn't planning on getting a kids Bible book, but this was in the Bargain books at Waldenbooks, so I picked it up. Beeper will still be exposed to the language of the scriptures during family scripture time every night, and he'll be getting an easier to understand version with pictures during the day. At least, that's the plan. We've read one or two stories from it so far, and he likes it okay.

Other supplimental activities:

We've had this one for a while. I occasionally use activity ideas from it. I am sure it will still come in handy. Afterall, I would be deluded to think three activities will be enough to keep us from getting bored everyday.

I just got this one in the mail today. After looking through it, I am very excited about it. The author has instructions for tons of Montessori-type activities, including instructions for how to explain them to your child and the natural progression of the activities. There's a wide variety of skill levels, from stuff my little guy can do to grade-level stuff. She doesn't include ages, but common sense tells me that much (at least, I don't think Beeper will be writing picture poems anytime soon). The other nice thing - just about all the actvities can be put together with common household items.

Extra Credit:

I just got this one in the mail today too, so I haven't read it yet, but it comes highly recommended. I suppose it's not really all that homeschool related, other than I think preschool should still be about play.

You're probably questioning my claims at "budget homeschooling" at this point. I know that's a lot of books, but... I really like books. We can never have too many books.

Tax Breaks For Homeschoolers

One thing I am trying to find out is what kind of tax breaks exist for homeschoolers. I guess I assumed that if we saved receipts, we'd get some kind of deduction. Afterall, we get a deduction for my college expenses. After researching the topic this morning, though, I am finding most sources say there is no tax break for homeschoolers (at least, not on a federal level). There is an Educator's Expense deduction, but according to this website, homeschooling doesn't count towards that. It's only for people that are making money as an educator (and therefore paying taxes on that money to the government). That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, so I'd like to research that one further.

Here is an interesting debate by homeschoolers about whether a tax break would even be a good idea. The argument for is that we all pay money to support public schools, then homeschoolers pay more money to homeschool their children. We have to pay twice. On the other hand, private school familes are paying twice too, so I guess that's just a choice we make. The other side of the argument is that a homeschool tax break would come with more regulations on what is required of homeschoolers. Homeschoolers enjoy the freedom of teaching their kids however they want. You can see the government's side of things, though. You wouldn't want someone just keeping their kids home from school in order to get another break on their taxes.

Some states do have specific laws giving homeschoolers tax credits. To find out if your state is one of those check out this article here. The article also talks about some bills on the national level that are under consideration right now.

There's no mention of Nevada on that website, so I started doing research to see what Nevada's laws are before I remembered that we don't pay state taxes here. In Nevada there is a special tax on people who can't do math (called casinos) that pays for our schools.

We will still be saving our receipts, though, on anything we buy related to homeschooling, and I am going to continue to research this.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Budget Montessori

I am finding the Montessori Mama blog is a great resource for a mom beginning to homeschool and experiment with Montessori. She has just posted another idea for a Montessori on a budget activity. Also check out her post about the Number Line and her Five Monkeys activity. We already have the book, I just need to find some cute little monkeys. I'm sure Beeper would love it (it's one of his favorite songs).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Montessori on a Budget

As I have been researching more about how to teach Monessori style at home, I have discovered something probably a lot of you already knew - setting up a Montessori classroom can get pretty expensive. It seems like it's all about the tools, although this article suggests that you actually need very few tools if you're really good.

The more I looked at these tools, though, the more I saw that a lot of them are something that could be made easily enough and with enough looking around, others could be purchased at a fairly low price. I'm thinking of putting together a resource page with ideas for setting up some Montessori style activities in the home without breaking the bank. I'll start in this thread with the ideas I've found so far, and if anyone has more, please add them.

The most obvious is the cards. Everywhere I look, people are using these three part cards, which I think are really neat. Why I needed a bolt of lightening to tell me that would be something I could make myself easily enough, I don't know. There's also a few places where people have put cards they have made up for anyone to download for free. If you've been to my scrapbooker blog, you know I love the sharing of freebies. A Bit of This and That has several sets that can be downloaded (check the download tag in the left-side menu). I'm thinking I'll start Beeper off with the art cards and when he gets the hang of the game or gets bored of it, I'll move him onto something trickier like the dinosaurs or the set I made: penguins. I made penguins, because he likes them, and I thought it would be interesting to see how he does with the subtle variations. I know babies are good with subtle details, but I don't know whether they lose that by they time they're toddlers. Maybe I'll have to make some with trucks too. He'd love that.

For motor activities, there are a few that I'm thinking of purchasing online and a few that I will make. I like this little toothpick game at Chasing Cheerios. Another game that I've seen in a lot of places is using a spoon to move wooden beads from one bowl to another. This would be easy enough to put together with stuff you have around the house - anything that's relatively smooth and about the size of large beads. Check out this valentine version from Montessori Mama. I read somewhere yesterday that using a spray bottle helps build motor skills, so we went snow painting. All you need for that is to fill a couple of spray bottles with water and add a few drops of food coloring. The two activities that I am looking at buying right now are something that I am sure my husband could make, but they are so affordable (and we don't have his woodshop set up yet) that it's just as economical to purchase them. You can get a sewing block at Amazon for only $10 and a small knobby circle set from this ebay store for about $12. I'm excited to get the knobby circle for Beeper, because I know he will love them. They are very much like the weight set that goes with his dad's antique scale. He loves playing with the weight set, and I would just use that instead of buying something if it were a complete set. (Speaking of which, if anyone does know where I could buy a complete set of weights for an antique scale, I'd be very interested...)

The dressing frames are the most popular thing I have seen for building personal skills and another one that would not be hard to make (or if you're not up to that, you can probably find some on ebay for not too much). This website had a fun idea for making a button bracelet as a precurser to the dressing frames. I made one for Beeper (out of Lightning McQueen fabric scraps because I couldn't find any old shirts) and he really likes it. He carries it around everywhere. He hasn't done any actual buttoning with it, but I thought it would be best not to pressure him. He'll button it when he's ready, right? And then I'll know he's ready to try some dressing frames. Check out the her main website for other ideas.

I'm also thinking of buying this book to get more ideas and instructions to make our own tools. Does anyone else have it and have anything to say about it?

I really like the puzzles, but that is something that would be hard to make and would get pricey to buy them everytime you moved onto a new subject. Does anyone have a puzzle swap so that you could just purchase one or two puzzles, then when you're done with them, trade them with someone else for new puzzles?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In the February 2008 issue of Wondertime, there was a great article on the five most popular schools of thought for preschooling. I had thought preschool was little more than glorified daycare. I've never thought there was much need for preschool or structure for kids under five. Unsurprisingly, then, this was also the first time I had ever heard the word Montesorri.

I found the article very interesting and well put together. The Montesorri page was one of the ones that intrigued me most. I did have the passing thought, "I wonder if you could homeschool Montessori style," but quickly dismissed it. Maybe if you have several kids. Afterall, the article seemed to imply that one of the biggest principles in Montesorri is kids teaching kids, and how could you do that with only one kid?

As I have been researching different methods of homeschooling and checking out various homeschooling blogs I've learned more about Montessori and now understand my error. Kidcentric doesn't just mean the kids learn from other kids. Montessori is all about allowing the kids to learn themselves. The activities are all designed to be self-correcting so that they can figure them outselves and learn from them.

Until very recently homeschool preschool wasn't something I was considering. Small children learn best through play, right? But I am finding more and more that I need new ideas for keeping Beeper entertained, because he isn't going to thrive sitting around watching "Cars" all day. I need something to do with him that we could both enjoy doing. And if it happens to be learning directed or, even better, teaches him to sit sit still a little longer, all the better right? So, I ordered a homeschool curriculum for two-year-olds. Looking through it I am very excited to start. I think we will both enjoy it.

My favorite homeschooling blog is LaPaz Home Learning. She describes their school as, "a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little Montessori, a little Charlotte Mason, but mostly just us!" I thought that was funny, because that's pretty spot on with the plan I have so far for our school. Plus, once I looked at their preschool archive, I knew that was what I wanted to accomplish.

Here is another article I came across in my surfing about why Montessori. The more I read about it, the more appealing I find this idea. And I think I could fit it in with the plans I already have (somewhere in between this curriculum I already have and leading up to/combining with the Charlotte Mason style curriculum I was thinking for first grade and up). It would probably never be pure Montessori, because anything I end up doing will have a whole lot of my own style in it.

So here we go. We're just starting out, and I am having trouble figuring out exactly where to start, but I thought it would be fun to give our homeschooling adventures their own blog. Maybe someone else who is trying to decide where to start will come along and get some ideas from us.