Creative Copywork

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Creative Copywork

Engaging Emergent Readers & Writers in New Ways

To say that every one of my children fell in love with copywork right away would be lying. There have been a few less enthusiastic with others. Finding ways to make it engaging and fun has been my creative challenge. Pictured are three of the ways my emergent readers and writers have enjoyed.

A photo posted by @angela_awald on

“Writing on the Wall”

Even though they aren’t really writing on the wall, the larger paper offered a new perspective. No longer was copywork a sit-at-the-table task. Standing and big print. Small, but large changes.

Word Hunt

This one is a favorite of mine. All I needed were some word cards and tape. The boys numbered a page in the copywork books 1-12 and set out on their hunt. Each word that they found, they copied into their books along with a little number. After they were all done, they read the words to me. Then added up the numbers to see how many “points they earned.” So in this little activity, they practiced writing, reading and math. Win! Win! Win!

Black Paper, Gel Pens, and Crayons

Just like the writing on the wall activity, small changes made copywork much more fun for my boys. To extend this a little further, we made up the copywork together learning about verbs, nouns and punctuation.

So, that’s the re-cap! Happy copying! :-)

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Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" Is Not the First Question You Should Ask

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Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" is Not the 1st Question You Should Ask

“What curriculum do you recommend?” It’s a logical question when you have decided to homeschool or have been homeschooling for a while and looking to make some changes. It is such a common question that it is asked almost daily on homeschool discussion boards. You want to make sure that you are covering all the subject areas and providing your children with the best education possible. That is, after all, one of the main reasons you decided to homeschool in the first place.

I know that you want to jump in and learn how to DO this homeschool thing. It’s our natural tendency to figure out how things work and make it happen. But really, pausing right here in the midst of your questioning will serve you well all along the journey. There is so much more to choosing a curriculum than comparing scope and sequence, price, or reviews. The uncertainty you feel will keep your eyes and ears and heart open to finding the right fit and not simply settling for what others do.

So if “What curriculum should I buy?” is not the first question question to ask, what is? The question and its answers are simultaneously simple and sophisticated. The question is…

What do you believe about education and learning and life?

 Your answers…are as unique as your fingerprints.

You may not know what you believe, where to start, what to ask, or that there are even questions to consider. I had no idea about all the possibilities when we began our homeschooling journey about 12 years ago (and I hold graduate degrees in education!).

The good news is that you don’t need to know all the answers. In fact, you never will. I have spent the past 18 years learning about educational philosophy and I still feel like I have more to learn. I have applied much of what I have learned. Some of it has been somewhat successful and some has fallen raucously downhill. What has finally emerged is my own confidence that I will do what is right for my family (and each of my children) at any given time.

Rather than see this seemingly unorganized way of homeschooling as a hindrance to educating my children, I see it as an asset. With my eyes wide open, looking always for new insight into learning, I am more responsive to the educational needs of my children. So as my children and I grow, we call upon new ways of learning so that their education is truly tailor-made.

But how do you get from where you are, with all your questions and concerns, to a place of confidence? You keep asking questions. Always. To get you started, I made a list of questions for you. It is not a conclusive list, but rather, a compilation of the questions have been helpful to me and to those who I have coached through this gateway. There are links included and a downloadable worksheet to facilitate note-taking as you explore.

    • What do you believe to be true about learning?
    • What inspires learning in you? In your children?
    • What are your children’s primary learning styles? What are yours?
    • What are your strengths as an educator? What are you fears?
    • What approach would serve you best? School at home? A relaxed, organic approach? Something in between?
    • What educational philosophies appeal to you?
      • Charlotte Mason
      • Classical
      • Unschooling
      • Waldorf
      • Project-Based Learning
      • Montessori
      • Democratic Education
      • Outdoor Learning
      • Unit Study
      • Traditional
      • Eclectic

Every homeschooler, new or seasoned, benefits from learning about the educational philosophies. This investment will save you time, money, and maybe a little bit of sanity, maybe:-), in the long run.

Now that I’ve turned your brain upside down and scrambled up where you thought you were supposed to begin, I leave you with this. An anchor for the journey and the answer to all the questions.

No matter what you believe about learning or curriculum, the key to homeschooling is the relationships you build. The best place to start is by looking into your own heart and into the faces of your children.

Over the next month or so, I will be highlighting each educational philosophy, giving you a glimpse into the pros and cons, sharing some resources to further facilitate your learning, and my personal reflections on each one. To have all the posts of this series delivered to your inbox, simply subscribe here. Subscribe here >

Using Reader's Notebooks to Connect with our Kids

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Using Reader's Notebooks to Connect with Our Kids

“The author wants us to feel that Cracker and Willie are sort of like siblings. I can see this on page 6 when Willie’s mom says that they are two peas in a pod.” (excerpt from my daughter’s very first reader’s notebook entry)

I began using Reader’s Notebooks during my classroom teaching days. I had longed to have meaningful conversations with each of my student’s one-on-one, but with a classroom of 24 students, all at varying levels of reading comprehension, the task felt impossible. Implementing the reader’s notebook did more for my students’ reading comprehension and ability to articulate their thoughts in writing than all the worksheets I could cram into a school week. The best part was that they could each interact at their own level, free to take risks and try out the reading strategies we were working on at the time.

Fast forward 12 years and into our One-Room-Home-School and the similarities are vivid. Readers at different levels. Time stretched thin.  But sacrificing meaningful conversation is NOT an option. So I made a plan. My two oldest (Ages 12 and 10) and I, will read one book a month and converse via their reader’s notebooks. A few times a week, we will meet to read a chapter together and discuss a reading strategy or literary device. Below I have outlined our first five days of assignments so that you can see how it flows. And I really mean flows. There is nothing set in stone. The outline is more of a brain dump of some of the things I’d like to cover. We’ll see how they go and adjust accordingly. It may take 5-10 days to complete depending on how things flow. The most important thing is facilitate love of literature and critical thinking along the way.

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Plans for... Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata

Mini-Lesson 1: Focus: Introducing the reader’s notebook.

Read chapter 1 together and introduce the reader’s notebook. This is a place to gather your thoughts about what you are reading and have a written conversation with Mom about it. Sometimes you will be given a prompt. Other times, the assignment will be open-ended.

Kid’s Assignment: Read chapters 2-3 independently.

In the reader’s notebook, write Mom a letter discussing what you notice about Willie and Cracker’s relationship. What do you think the author wants you to see or feel about their relationship? Find 3 clues in what you have read so far, that show this. Include a quote, the page number and why you think this supports how you view Willie and Cracker’s relationship.

Mom’s Assignment: Read Chapters 2-3, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-Lesson 2: Focus: Author’s choose specific words to set a mood or help the reader visualize what is happening in the story.

Read pages 28-30 together.

Look closely at the scene on page 30 where Rick begins to talk to his parents about Vietnam. “Rick had felt four sets of eyes burn into him…Rick felt his own chest heaving with nervousness but kept his eyes trained on his father’s. Then everyone was talking at once. His parents and grandparents grilled him for hours.”

Kid’s Assignment: finish reading chapter 4. In the reader’s notebook, find another place in the story that the author makes deliberate word choices and helps you visualize the story.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 4, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-Lesson 3: Focus: “Golden Lines: Making reading personal.”

Sometimes we read something that stands out to us or brings forth an emotion. Capturing these lines can help us make personal connections to what we are reading. And later on, we can look back and see how a book touched our hearts.

Kid’s assignment: Read chapter 5. Look back over the first 5 chapters and find a quote that stands out to you. Write Mom a letter that includes the quote and why you chose it.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 5, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-lesson 4: Focus: Let it all simmer

We covered a good amount in the first few days and I believe that resting in new knowledge is important in incorporating it into our own thought-life.

Kid’s Assignment: Read chapter 6 and write to Mom about anything you want to related to the book. Remember to answer any questions Mom asked in her letters to you.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 6, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-lesson 5: Focus: Keep the simmer going…

Kid’s and Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 7. No writing, just reading.

Other literary devices and comprehension strategies to discuss using Cracker!:

Protagonist/antagonist Story elements, using chart from Teaching the Classics Continue with Golden Lines Asking questions, seeking information to aid comprehension Revisit visualization

I am purposely keeping this list small. Trying to over-analyze and cram too much into our letters will dampen our enthusiasm for the process. As we get more comfortable with this, I will move to 1-2 topics a week, giving the kids more to read and a little bit longer to respond. And we’ll still take time to enjoy in-person chats at the end of the book. Hopefully as the children grow in knowledge and experience of this process, it will become even more organic, with less guidance from me and more from them. That’s the big picture and one I look forward to.

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Homeschooling Translated

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Homeschooling Translated

Ever feel like you aren't doing enough in your homeschooling?  Maybe it's outside pressure or your own internal dialogue, but often we doubt that what we are doing with and for our children is enough.  I know I do, until I slow down and examine just how naturally full of learning our days really are.

Julie Bogart of Brave Writer was talking about this very idea the other day is this scope.  She was talking about how we already do so much learning our children, even though it may not look like what schools would consider education. She expanded on this saying that we can give ourselves credit and calm the “ghost of public school past” by putting what we already do into what I like to call “teacher-speak,” that language that educators use to compartmentalize and quantify the learning being done.

Though I know many are intimidated by this task, I have always found it kind of fun, maybe because I love writing and am always trying to think of new ways to say the same thing. But also because I used to teach in public school and know that the teaching and learning done in a classroom has nothing on the authentic learning that can be done in the home and the world around.

So I decided to take one day from our week and put it into teacher-speak to illustrate this idea and hopefully give you some encouragement that you really are doing a lot already!

Below I’ve listed some of the activities we engaged in. And below that is a list of the subject areas and topics covered in “teacher-speak.”

Our Day

Poetry teatime:

  • Making treats and peanut butter cocoa
  • Reading poems-learned about e.e. cummings and the use or dis-use of capitalization in poetry
  • haiku-which lead to discussion of syllables and counting them and spontaneous, improvised lines of poetry,
  • Poetry art project-this would be completed later in the day, but in preparation, we discussed verbs, nouns, and adjectives, listing some to be used in a poem about autumn leaves

Nature hike:

  • Read the map and followed trail markers.
  • experienced the crispness in the air juxtaposed with the warmth of fall day, collected various leaves and later looked up a few that we did not recognize
  • physical exercise, fresh air
  • time with friends

After our hike:

  • Looked at each individual leaf and described it recalling adjectives, nouns and verbs. Wrote words on leaves, arranged them in various ways to make a poem, typed the poem, dipped leaves in beeswax and hung them up to dry.

Translation

Language arts: poetry appreciation, reading, grammar, capitalization, syllables, penmanship, keyboarding skills

Math: fractions, measurement, comparing

Social Studies: Map reading, compass rose

Science: botany, leaf identification

Physical education: hiking

Recess: socializing with friends

Art: 3-D sculpture, photography

 If you add in the music we listened to on the way and the time my older kids practiced their violins, we covered every subject area. The best part is, I was there, present and engaged with my children. We weren’t bogged down by workbooks on this beautiful day in November. We were living a full life. And what I realized along the way is that the best learning is the learning that you’re never too tired to pursue. The learning that even though it may not be during your “school” hours, you are still excited to experience. Because that’s just it! Learning is an experience. A never-ending, journey of discovery.

Give it a try.

Can you take just one experience that you have shared with your children lately and put it in “teacher-speak”?

Monday Mindset: Start a Fire

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Monday Mindset

Because sometimes all you need is a shift in perspective.

It’s November and the honeymoon of the “new” school year is over. Many of us are questioning, “Why did I want to homeschool again?” Whatever your reasons were at the beginning of your journey, they may have been overshadowed by the day-to-day nitty-gritty. And we often find ourselves uninspired, at best, or worse, just plain burnt out. If you find yourself here, take heart! You are not alone! After 8 years of homeschooling, I have started to see the patterns of the year and how enthusiasm wanes to boredom. The good news is, with a shift in perspective, (and some practical tools to help), you can regain your inspiration and rediscover your joy in homeschooling.

This is one of my favorite quotes and my “instant mindset mender”. Whenever I get bogged down in the myriad of details that it takes to craft a quality home education, I read this and remember that there is more to learning than memorizing math facts and understanding grammar. Don’t get me wrong, these are fine endeavors and often necessary, but if we lose sight of the bigger picture, nothing else matters. So I ask you, are you lighting a fire or filling a bucket?

One of the biggest concerns I hear among homeschooling families is that their children aren’t interested in a particular book/project/curriculum. So the parent asks, “What can I do?” Over the years, I have been faced with this same situation on countless occasions. This makes sense given that each member of my family is constantly growing and changing, including me. That each one has his or her own preferences and dislikes. That each one has his or her own learning style, which changes too.

Over the years, I have taken note of the questions I ask in self-reflection, when I am faced with a discrepancy between a learner and a learning activity. I have learned not to take it personally and that a lack of enthusiasm in my kids is not a sign of disrespect but a signal to me that their fire is flickering.

So, I ask myself these questions…

  1. Am I inspired by the book, project, etc? If not, my kids are probably picking up on it. If I am, how may my view of it differ from theirs?
  2. What are my goals/hopes/desires with using a particular book/learning project?
  3. Is there another way/book/resource to meet the same goals that may be more engaging?
  4. Are they really ready for what I am asking them to do?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but if you respond honestly, I think you will reconnect with your own inner wisdom about what is best for your family. Making the necessary changes to regain a love of learning may be challenging but they are worth every ounce of effort.

Ironically, or rather serendipitously, I came across another perfect quote as I was reading the first chapter of Julie Bogart’s A Gracious Space, Fall Edition. (If you have not had the good fortune of “meeting” Julie yet, you must! Catch any of her Scopes or replays or check out her website! Your day life will be blessed by her wisdom and non-judgmental support on your homeschooling journey!)

Julie says, “What makes your children’s education unique isn’t how well you systematize all the subjects. It’s how well you share your enthusiasm for life, learning, art, literature, the power of math equations to create quilts or build forts or sell cookies, the excitement of politics, volunteering in your free time so that your kids learn how to share themselves with others, and most important, your enthusiasm for each of them.”

So, in one word…Enthusiasm.

Be the joy of learning.

How will you light the fire of learning in your family this week?

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The Simple Guide to Enjoying Shakespeare with Kids

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Enjoy Shakespeare.

For many this statement seems like an oxymoron. Their feelings about Shakespeare are on par with having a tooth pulled without the anesthesia. Why is that? Why is Shakespeare so well-known and yet so feared? I am willing to bet that the biggest reason is unfamiliarity with the language of Shakespeare. I think one could argue that it is a foreign language all its own! With that said, I am going to share with you ways to enjoy Shakespeare with children of all ages!

Start with re-tellings!

The stories of Shakespeare really are inviting once you break the barrier of the poetic language. The best way our family has been able to do this is to listen to and read re-tellings! Our favorites have been from Jim Weiss and Bruce Coville. Both of these authors and storytellers have a way of capturing the beauty of the story, seamlessly merging original lines from Shakespeare into their re-tellings. So not only do we better understand the story but the poetry of the language is gracefully maintained.Another path to enjoying Shakespeare, and simulatenously expanding our view of his works, is to read a book like Shakespeare’s storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard. This book shares 6 folk tales and a little history and insight about how each one relates to the works of Shakespeare. The best part is that it comes with 2 CDs so that you can listen to them on the go. I can’t say enough about this book! And I can’t help but smile when my kids say, “Can we listen to Shakespeare? Plleeeaaase?”

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coville shakespeare

Find your guides!

Gather some resources about Shakespeare that work for your family.  These will end up being as much for you as your kids. They’ll be your go-to when you want to dig a little deeper or get some fresh ideas! My favorites are linked below. Having them on hand has helped me to be consistent with making Shakespeare more a part of our family culture, rather than just a story we read once.

Listen, read and watch!

Shakespeare is poetry and play. It is meant to be heard and seen, both on the written page and on the stage. But I have to confess that I am terrified of reading Shakespeare aloud to my kids. Not so much that I will mispronounce words but that I will lose the beauty of the language and kill any chance of my kids enjoying the experience. So, I got creative! I bought several copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story with which my children are already familiar. And I purchased the audio version. So we have options. We can listen. We can read. And most preferred, we can listen and read along at the same time! I am still on the look-out for a well performed screen or stage production of Shakespeare plays, but that is on my to-do list before the year is through. So if you have any favorites to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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So that’s it! 

Simple strategies. 

Gather some resources. 

Start small and jump in.

You will gain confidence as you go.

You may even find that you and your kids enjoy Shakespeare!

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Sassafras Science Adventures

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Day 15: Sassafras Science Adventures

I am always looking for ways to bring learning alive in our home.  And when I found the Sassafras Science Adventures, I had a hard time deciding on which one to choose.  All three looked amazing and I had one of those 'I-want-it-all' moments.  I finally settled on Botany, much to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my six-year-old botanist.  And we have not been disappointed.  This book has quickly become a favorite read-aloud, and closing the book is a guaranteed way to hear a chorus of "Don't stop....Just one more chapter...Pleeeaaaase?"

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But our learning hasn't stopped there.  We have headed out the door to see what we can find.  To see if we can spot some of the plants the story so gracefully introduces.  And our rabbit trails lead us to other books and still more discoveries.  We keep track of our learning in our logbooks, but even if we didn't, reading the story and exploring the world would be enough.  Because real learning is an adventure.  You never want it to end!

The Apple Pie Tree

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Day 14: The Apple Pie Tree

Who doesn't read at least one book about apples in the fall?  Even as our kids get older, we still smile when we see the display of picture books at the library with their apple illustrations on the cover.  They beg us to sit a while, as if just by opening the pages, we will be immersed into the goodness of autumn.  And then we will feel all warm inside and immediately have the intense desire to bake an apple pie:)

apple pie tree

The Apple Pie Tree will do all of these things.  It's simplicity is top among its merits, along with the way it leads us to think upon the magic of the apple seed and the cycle of the seasons.  Little ones will want to look inside an apple, and that leads to all sorts of activities.  Apple picking, making apple prints, making applesauce, apple crisp, apple pie.  Sometimes simple is best!  Happy Learning!

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Learn Geography with a Laugh

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Day 13: Learn Geography with a Laugh

Sometimes I take this whole parenting & shaping my children's future thing too seriously.  Do you know what I mean?

I carefully select books to support the development of their character and their minds.  I look for themes that will inspire and teach, and being well-written is a MUST!  But sometimes, I just need to loosen up!

Enter The Scrambled States of America.

scrmabled states scrambles states game

We found this book, or rather it found us, after we purchased the game at a yard sale.  I am always looking for engaging ways of introducing topics that have traditionally been presented in dry, lackluster fashion.  The game is just that!  It includes geography of the United States, including capitols and state nicknames, spelling, and color identification.  It is one of the first games that every member of our family has enjoyed no matter their age.

The book is equally fun!  My kids will always remember that "Nevada and Mississippi are in love."  Not sure what that means?  Check out the book to find out.  You'll never look at geography the same again!

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