Homeschooling 8th grade for almost free

Homeschooling 8th grade for almost free

Hard to believe we’ve reached the last year of middle school! Even though we’ve incorporated some high school level work last year, this year seems like a huge milestone.

We’re also starting the school year in a bit of flux. I’ve been the primary caregiver for my grandparents for the past three and a half years. Since both of them have now passed away, it’s time for me to get back in the the working world. That means restarting my small business consultancy – now in a city I’ve been living in for almost four years but where I don’t have many business contacts. We also need to find an affordable, safe place to live and move in the next few weeks. Anybody surprised that I’m a little behind on planning for the school year?

I’ve been researching open-source and online curriculum for a while. Not being tied to one curriculum works well for us and having everything online is especially helpful this year since I have no desire to move a year’s worth of books almost as soon as we get them. Fortunately, I have a student who is very much a self-starter when it comes to getting his school work done. Our homeschool planner does double-duty, outlining the “plan” for each week and recording anything extra that gets done.

My 8th plan isn’t fancy, but it should get us started and on track through the move at least. We can always add to or adjust as we go. Here’s the resources I’ve pulled together for our year so far… (more…)

5 Play Anywhere Learning Games

5 Play Anywhere Learning Games

For us, especially in the pre-school and elementary ages, homeschooling looked a lot like kids just go everywhere mom goes. These little sponges pick up so much, incorporating lessons and practice into everyday tasks. We even created a catchphrase, singing “Everyday Math!”, any time we had to figure some real life math problem.

Bringing kids along everywhere has some challenges though. The number one difficulty for us – waiting. Whether standing in line or long rides in the car, bored kids quickly turn into grumpy kids. Our solution was playing games whenever the need arose. Looking back, quite a few of our silly games laid important foundations in math, language and thinking ability.

 

#1 – The Alliteration Game

Take turns adding words to a sentence, each beginning with the same letter or sound. Sentences don’t have to be true but should be grammatically correct. Words can be added at any point in the sentence. Small words (articles, prepositions) don’t have to be alliterative. Example:

Gorillas
Grumpy gorillas
Grumpy gorillas grab
Grumpy gorillas grab grapes
Grumpy gorillas grab grimy grapes
Grumpy gorillas grab gross, grimy grapes
Grumpy gorillas grab gross, grimy grapes
Grumpy gorillas in Granada grab gross, grimy grapes
Grumpy gorillas in Granada greedily grab gross, grimy grapes …

Keep going until you’re out of words to add. (Our record is 35 words!) If kids get stuck, prompt with questions. What adjective could you use to describe the gorillas? How did they grab them? Is there an adverb for that? For younger kids its great for building phonemic awareness. Older kids get to practice and learn new vocabulary and reinforce parts of speech.

 

#2 – Higher or Lower

The classic number guessing game. One player chooses a number and the other(s) close in, being told higher or lower after each guess. Easily adapts for younger kids (1-10) or older (1-1,000,000). Develops number sense, reasoning ability and mental math calculations.


#3 – Share a story

Take turns telling a story. Start out by asking the kid(s) for a character and setting, the crazier the better. Then each person takes a turn, adding 2-4 sentences to move the story along. After the story is over, older kids can be asked to identify the plot, conflict, or resolution to add to the educational aspects.

 

#4 –  Word Association

This one has only gotten more fun as my son has gotten older (and built a bigger vocabulary). Start with any compound word. Take part of the word and use in a new compound word or phrase. Continue, building the bigger chain you can without repeating. Or make the goal to get back to original word. Example:

Race horse
Foot race
Clubfoot
Poker club
Poker chip
Chips and dip
Dipstick
Stick in the mud
Mud pie
Apple pie
Candy apple…

#5 – 20 Questions type games

I Spy… I’m thinking of a food, an animal, etc… Classic 20 questions. These types of games – where the chooser can only answer yes or no to the questioner – develop logical thinking and questioning skills and can be played with any child old enough to speak.

 

Do you have any games to add to the list? Share them below!

Writing Fanfiction as a Middle School Curriculum

Writing Fanfiction as a Middle School Curriculum

Writing fiction is hard. It’s hard for people who love to write, want to write, and have something they want to write about. I have enough half-formed stories in my head and belong to enough writers’ support groups to know this.

If it’s hard for an adult when they have all that going for them, imagine how much more difficult it is for a student being told, “Be creative. Write a story.” Coming up with a plot and characters can overwhelm even creative kids, creating a negative feedback loop. “I’m not good at writing. I can’t write. I hate writing.” Story prompts are a huge help.  But plenty of young writers still struggle with developing  characters and writing realistic dialogue.

I wanted to focus on fiction writing this year and decided to experiment introducing FanFiction (basically “borrowing” characters from another book, movie, TV series or other work) to make the writing more interesting. From the very start my somewhat-reluctant-to-write 7th grader was excited about the idea. Our first step was to brainstorm of all the books (especially series), movies and TV shows that he was particularly familiar with. That way, as he was given each prompt and assignment, there was a cast of characters just waiting to be written about. 

Our first prompt – “Write a scene of dialogue between at least two characters. One person can only say ‘I don’t want to.'” – was just silly enough to get the ball rolling and have fun with the writing process. The next prompt, “write a survival story”, was intended to be a short assignment to go along with our Hatchet novel study. When it turned into a six page, 3,000 word story (based on characters from How to Train Your Dragon) that he wanted to work on, I knew we were on to something. 

While there are a ton of prompts available for free all over the internet, too many were not suitable for our situation. We avoid anything dealing with magic or the supernatural, and (thankfully) there’s not much interest in reading, writing or thinking about romantic relationships. So I made our own all-purpose, suitable for all ages prompts!

Want to try FanFiction writing with your student? Here’s a few prompts to get you started:

  • Dialogue prompt: You think I’d notice if my best friend was a robot!
  • Make a list of characters and their favorite songs.
  • Write a scene with your characters playing a board game.
  • Your character is going undercover at a local school to solve a crime. Write about it.
  • What is your character’s morning routine?

Want something ready to use for your student? I’ve put together a book with 30 FanFiction writing prompts for use with middle or high school students (or anyone wanting a starting point for a writing project). Each 2 page spread includes a prompt lined paper for writing. Extra lined pages are included in the back for any stories that run on a little longer.
Available on Amazon Print on Demand

FanFiction writing may just open your student up to a larger writing community. Just like with any online community, not everything is suitable for everyone. Click here for some ideas and cautions about sharing FanFiction stories.

Use one of my prompts or your own? We’d love to read it. Feel free to post it in the comments below!

FanFiction Resources

FanFiction Resources

For more about how we’re using fanfiction writing in middle school check out this post.

Resources for students and parents

** An Important Note – Fanfiction is extremely popular. If it’s a book, movie, TV show, celebrity, or anything else in pop culture – there’s probably a fanfiction work (fanfic) about it. Writers range from preteen to adult and the content of their writings range from G rated to Explicit. Many sites give authors the ability to give a rating to their works, but ratings are self-determined and not consistently applied. Depending on your students maturity and level of responsibility, you may want to restrict access or discuss appropriate reading and what to do if a story they’ve started isn’t what they expected.

Sharing your Work

kidfanfiction.pbworks.com – Contains material appropriate for K-6 students. Submissions and comments are emailed to the site administrator  who moderates for violence, language and adult themes.

teenink.com – National magazine and website with submissions sole from teens. Has a fanfiction section as part of the overall fiction & novels section. Also accepts poetry, non-fiction and art work. Submissions may be printed in national magazine or featured on website. Allows comments on submissions. Stories, comments and forum posts are filtered for content.

fanfiction.netLarge repository of fanfics. Must be 13+ to create an account. Self rating system K (all ages) – M (Mature themes, older teens and up). Per guidelines, explicit content is not allowed. Ability to filter by content rating .

archiveofourown.orgContains millions of works. Must be 13+ to create account. Self rating system General Audiences to Explicit. Many works are not rated and ratings are not consistently applied. Mature themes and sexual content common. Ability to filter by content rating.

Google Docs  –  If you want to share student stories only within a small group, Google docs could work. Enable sharing with specific files, or create a shared folder in Google Drive and all documents within the folder will be able to be viewed by authorized users.

More options for sharing with the world at large include publishing your own website on WordPress.com, creating a Tumblr.com account, or sharing on wattpad.com. Each has it’s own benefits and drawbacks.

When just getting by is enough…

When just getting by is enough…

So what’s up with the long hiatus from new posts? In short, Caregiving for elderly grandparents while maintaining even VERY part-time work from home and homeschooling is exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally. Leaving very little creative juice for creating amazing unit studies that challenge a now middle schooler and are worth posting about.

To take some of the load off we used online curriculum for the past two years – DiscoveryK12 (5th grade) and  MobyMax.com (6th grade). Neither program was perfect but it didn’t require a lot of hand-on administration from me which made it ideal for our circumstances. Again, not much post worthy there. Academic progress was made, state requirements were fulfilled, and we made it through a couple of very hard years.

So here we are, entering 7th grade, mourning the loss of one grandparent while the other – who doesn’t require constant care – is still in need of daily assistance. We’re returning to more of a hands-on, offline schooling, primarily at my son’s request. More structured and with more textbook than our early grades but with more room for creativity and combining subjects into unit studies than online schooling allowed.

In some ways, the past couple years may have set us back a little academically. By third/fourth grade we were doing work that was in many ways beyond the “typical” grade level work. If we had continued on a more interest-led, deepening study of those subjects we might be even farther now than we are. But the past two and half years have given us so much more than book smarts. The opportunity for my son to really know his great-grandparents and have a close relationship with them is priceless. And the growth in the sense of personal responsibility and competency in so many real life situations is much more valuable. This perspective, as much as anything, keeping me from the endless “Am I doing enough?” questions that would make our homeschooling journey anything but stressless.

Going forward I hope to be able to blog about some interesting and share-worthy projects and lessons. We have some ambitious plans going forward and I’m exciting to be creating some resources for our own use that I think others may benefit from as well.  My home school planner is already making my life easier.  So stay tuned and if I disappear again for a while it’s probably just to deal with life as it comes.

Free Homeschool Planning Pages

Free Homeschool Planning Pages

I love the idea of planning everything out and being the most organized homeschool mom anyone has ever seen. In theory.

Real life… Not so much. We’re definitely more of a go-with-the-flow, have-a-goal-but-flexible-on-getting-there kind of family. While my now 12 year old thrives on structure, any deviation from “the plan” can result in an anxiety spiral. We’re working on it.

Meanwhile, what works fairly well for us is to have a general plan (cover x number of pages in x subject most weeks)  and outline each week or two as we go. Since I couldn’t find a planning book or pages that fit our needs, I did what I usually do. I made my own.

 

 

 

 

 

These pages are extremely flexible. Some weeks I’ll want to plan lessons for specific days to fit a unit study or special activities. Those weeks I’ll use the sections to assign lessons for each day. Other weeks I don’t care if he works on one subject all day or in whatever order he chooses – as long as the week’s work gets done – so can list lessons by subject.

The checkmarks to the left of each lesson we use as “done” to quickly see the week’s progres. The right side checkmarks can be used to show which assignments I’ve checked over or to indicate that he needs help with an assignment.

The second page has plenty of room to list all the “extras” as they happen. Books read, videos watched, field trips, library visits, special projects, etc.

You can download these pages for free below – or – purchase on Amazon a 128 page softcover book that includes

  • yearly attendance calendar
  • 2 year (July 2018 – June 2020) calendar pages with space to note important dates
  • 12 year overview planning spaces for yearly overview planning
  • 52 weeks of undated planning & record keeping pages
  • extra lined and dot grid pages for book lists, co-op schedules, unit study planning, notes, diagrams, or whatever you need


Free Planning Pages

Free weekly home school planning and record keeping pages

Learning Science with Disney Imagineering

We used Disney’s Imagineering DVDs from our library to get ready for our trip. The 11-video series covers a ton of information in a fun, interactive way. It was funny listening to the kids as we went through the park, “Remember when Asa (the DVD host) did that?”

The series includes:

  • Energy
  • Fluids
  • Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion
  • Gravity
  • Friction
  • Magnetism
  • Electricity
  • Levers & Pulleys
  • Trajectory
  • Design & Models
  • Animal Adaptations: Communication

Each DVD includes instructions for a try-it-yourself, interactive activity to reinforce the science principles in the video!

I highly recommend incorporating this series into your pre-trip homeschooling!
Check out the official trailer for the series:

There are a few more excerpt videos Disney has posted online:

I found the entire series available at my local library. The videos are available directly from Disney’s education store for about $20 each. Amazon carries the series new just slightly cheaper with free shipping for Prime members (if you’re not a Prime member, click here for a 30-day trial) and some videos are available used starting around $11!

The No-Prep Mexico / Ancient Civilizations Unit Study

The No-Prep Mexico / Ancient Civilizations Unit Study

Sometimes things just converge together and make planning a week’s worth of school nearly impossible. For me, that’s usually the same week I need the kids occupied so I can concentrate on other work deadlines. Last week was one of those weeks. While searching for something else I came across the Pack-N-Go Girls Mystery series and the related “extending the learning” packs on TeachersPayTeachers.com. With limited time and no plan in place I bought the Kindle version of the first Mexican book – Mystery of the Thief in the Night (Pack-n-Go Girls – Mexico Book 1) – and downloaded the free packs from TPT. I also added in some ancient civilizations videos & worksheets from BrainPop.com (Maya, Aztec, Inca, Columbian Exchange, Conquistadors) and our regular math and spelling schedule.

I don’t think this week’s lesson will win and awards but it was exactly what we needed to get through the week and not fall behind. With additional books set in Mexico, Austria and Thailand and more free related learning packs on TPT if I ever need another no-prep week I’m glad to know they are there.

Postcards from the Lewis & Clark Expedition

Postcards from the Lewis & Clark Expedition

Social Studies is one area where we tend to study what comes up instead of following a set curriculum. Today’s lesson on Lewis and Clark was one of those random lessons that turned out pretty well.

We started by watching a Netflix documentary (National Geographic: Lewis & Clark , Great Journey West), pausing to follow the expedition’s journey on our US map and discussing how this journey relates to what they already knew.

After watching the movie the kids created postcards (template here courtesy of NotebookingFairy.com) as if they were on the expedition writing to someone back home.

postcards from the Lewis & Clark expedition created by 2nd graders postcards from the Lewis & Clark expedition created by 2nd graders

Around the World at Epcot – Cover page and China notebooking printables

Around the World at Epcot – Cover page and China notebooking printables

Guess who’s going to Disney!?!?! Planning a trip to Disney World over the next few months is going to be a lot of fun and a great opportunity to tie in the fun of Disney to our school day. And fun school is always a stressless school!

The World Showcase at Epcot provides a perfect link to Social Studies. All those countries just asking to be studied! And map reading skills! How fun does that sound? I’ll be adding new files as I finish them up. We’re starting with China so those are up first!

We’ll be using binders and 3-hole punched pages for our notebooking so that we can add pages as we go (because that’s how I roll). Here’s the layout so far.

Cover page – Around the World at Epcot Cover

Epcot blank map – We’ll be labeling this blank map as we study each country. Hopefully by the time we visit we’ll be experts at navigating even though I’ve never been.

Click images for previews.

Each country represented in Epcot will have its own cover page and tab for easy navigation followed by 4 pages of research/ study guide.

  • Country overview: Color location on world map, draw and color flag, research “vital statistics”, foods, animals and famous people.
  • Language & Fun Facts: Look up & translate 7 common phrases (on translate.google.com) and blank lines for independent research.
  • Timeline: Themed page with space for 6 events in the country’s history.
  • Map: Blank country map. Instructions to label key landmarks and identify bordering countries (14 for China!).

Epcot China Cover Page

Epcot China Study Guide 

Epcot France Cover Page

Epcot France Study Guide 

I still need to complete a page for listing the attractions, dining and entertainment in each Epcot country. And I love the idea of collecting souvenirs during our trip (menus, pictures, postcards) to add to our notebooks/ binders.

That’s the basic plan for now (subject to change). What am I forgetting or what would you add?