Monday, June 5, 2017

Organizing a Homeschool Library


Disclaimer: We currently fall more under the category of "Afterschooling" family than "Homeschooling" category, but the library organization applies in either situation.  :)

While some women love to shop for purses, shoes, clothes, make-up, etc., my main shopping weakness is books.  I was the girl that dreamed of the library from Beauty and the Beast, instead of the prince.  Between garage sales, library book sales, Scholastic book orders and Amazon, we have accumulated quite the library of children's books.  Xander adores his books, spends hours a week (and sometimes a day) reading and rereading his books.  It's hard to feel guilty buying him more when I know they'll get put to good use!

However, with all the books we had, I was worried about some of them getting buried on the shelves, or not being able to find books we were looking for.  As soon as I finished my basement, I knew that new bookshelves were in order!  Since I also tend to have an obsessive need for organization, I needed to come up with a system of organizing those books!  After some research and some work, our new Homeschool Library was born!

There's an App for That
As I was deciding how to organize the library, I did quite a bit of Googling into apps and software to organize home libraries.  I finally landed on Libib.com.  Libib is a free cloud based database that lets me organize and categorize my books.  I can create multiple libraries and I can use my phone or iPad to scan barcodes, I can type in ISBN numbers, I can search for books or I can do a complete manual entry.  The vast majority of the books we own already had the information loaded into the website, I just had to add them to my library.  I can access the library anywhere I have internet (which will be handing when I'm at a garage sale and can't remember whether or not I have a particular book).  I can also export the library and its information into a spreadsheet.

The part of the app that was most valuable to me, though, was the tags.  For each book I was able to add tags, that I can use to search.  Just a few examples of tags I have are "Christmas," "Leveled Readers," "Weather," "Life Cycles", "Space," "Historical Figures," and "Character Development." Many books only have one tag, but many have several.  It took a lot of upfront work (which I did slowly over several weeks), but I am glad I did.  The power in it is that if we are studying a particular topic, I can easily type in a tag and find all the books we have related to that subject.  If Xander is interested in castles, for example, I can figure out all the books we have related to castles, even if they're not all stored together.  



On the Shelves
Luckily, there is  still quite a bit of room on the shelves.  Part of that is because I have chosen to store all of his chapter books on shelves elsewhere in the house.  I have dreams of someday having all the shelves together (and maybe even one of those beautiful IKEA corner shelving units with a ladder), but those dreams will have to wait for a bigger house.  Part of it is because I have not dug all of the board books out of storage, yet.  Someday we'll have more kids and then those shelves will be put to good use!

Below is the general way I categorized the shelves.  

I used to exclusively use those cardboard magazine organizers from IKEA, but they take up so much room on the shelves, particularly if they're not full.  I decided to still use those for our more seasonal books (holidays, seasons, toddler nonfiction books).  For the rest of the non-ficiton, I put them into categories separated by paint sticks.  I just used a fine-tipped sharpie to label the paint sticks.  They're cheap and easy enough that I can adjust the categories as our collection grows/changes.  The categories on the shelves do not necessarily match the categories in Libib (because Libib lets me have multiple tags).
Fiction
The categorization of the non-fiction is easy enough.  I struggled a little more with the fiction.  I ended up having one shelf of fiction completely random.  There's no system and Xander can take and put in books however he'd like.  Some fiction, however, I decided I needed to categorize.  For example, we have several books by certain authors or in certain series, that it just made sense to keep together.  We have a category for the Bear Books by Karma Wilson, another for the Aurthur books, one for Eric Carle books and another for the Llama Llama Books.  I also ended up putting together a section for books about Love and Family.

Cleaning Up
As of right now, Xander can get out whatever books he wants to read, but I am not having him put them away.  He's supposed to put them in a pile and I will put them away for him.  While I encourage his independence, he tends to shove books onto shelves, bending pages and covers in the process.  We're working on it, but until then, I'm ok with putting the books away for him.

Room to Grow
While this is the current system, and I am very happy with it, I also see it growing and changing in the future.  The grownups books need a better place than boxes in my dad's basement.  I would also love to have something like the picture below for a playroom for younger kids.  I'm also open to other ideas and suggestions the readers have to make it even more efficient!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Games for Brains: Otrio

Playing Time: ~10 Minutes.
Players: 1-4

Overview:
When I first saw this game, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful wood board and the colorful rings.  Even without knowing how to play, it just looks interesting and fun (maybe that's just me, I have the same feeling when I walk into a kindergarten classroom).  It is played kind of similarly to tic-tac-toe, only a little more grown up.  You have three sizes of rings and can win by get three in a row of the same size or ascending to descending sizes.  Additionally, you can win by filling one space with a ring of each size.  For two player, you each play two different colors, which function independently.  While the concept is super simple and can be explained to a new person in about a minute, it is actually a bit more challenging that we first thought it would be.

Xander enjoys playing and it is great that it takes about 10 minutes or less to play.  Sometimes I just can't commit to a 45-60 minute game in the evenings!  We've played 2, 3 and 4 player, and liked all version.    

Angry that I took his spot

Brain Value:
Like I said, this game takes more brainpower than it first seems.  It is a very visual game, which is good for me since I am not always a visual person.  Since there are four different colors and multiple ways to win, you really have to pay attention to the whole board and try to anticipate what others might do.  He so easily gets caught up in what moves he wants to make, that he has to focus to block moves of other players.  I also like that he has to plan a little bit ahead, rather than just playing each move as he goes.

The company makes other games, so I am kind of intrigued to see if I like them as well.







Monday, January 2, 2017

When Early Learning Kid Hits Public School

Hello!  Remember me?  Life has been crazy, hence the silence around the blog.  I taught a new class this year, so all of my free time went to that.  Sadly, I barely got to do any fun learning activities with Xander, and when I did, I forgot to take pictures and blog.  I'll try to be better. :)
Anyway, since a lot of my blog focuses on early education, I figured I'd give an update as to what happened when Xander hit school.  This was his first official year in public school (we did preschool last year, but he was only there a couple hours a day and learned pretty much nothing).
In preparation for Xander entering kindergarten, I had contacted the principal last spring to address some of my concerns about having a kid who could read and do math enter kindergarten.  The principal pretty much wanted me to wait until summer to do anything.  In the summer I contacted both him and the teacher and was told we'd just wait til school started.  Two weeks after school started, and Xander was coming home having "learned" a letter a day, I contacted the teacher again and some meetings and evaluations were eventually set up.  We met and some fantastic ideas were discussed, but nothing was really implemented, so I kept pestering.  Basically, it was a long road to get to a place where we could address Xander's learning needs.

His evaluations came back showing that he was doing 2nd grade math and has a 5th grade reading fluency, so obviously a letter and number a day were just not appropriate.  In November it was finally decided that we should move Xander to 1st grade.  This involved changing schools (within the same district), but was felt to be a better fit.  Xander only missed the age cut off by about 6 weeks, so while he is now young for his grade, he's still fairly close in age to his peers.  It seems like the best balance for him.  He'd be much more challenged than in kindergarten, without it being too big of an age jump.  Also, it allows him to learn the process of school.

He's now been in 1st grade for a couple of months and likes it pretty well.  The teacher works really hard to meet each student where they are and the principal is very easy to work with as well.  He's grouped with the more advanced kids for their MTSS time, so is working on STEM skills and currently doing a research project.  He's getting challenged well in grammar also.  I am not 100% sure how I feel about his math placement, but overall I think his needs are being met the best they can at the moment.  He's learning science and social studies and really enjoys music, art and gym.  He gets along well with his peers and enjoys school.
1st Day at the new school!
  I'd LOVE to do more fun learning activities from home and have tons of ideas for them.  Xander would like that too.  Someday I will work more normal hours and maybe be able to do some afterschooling.  For now, we still use many iPad apps and Xander does some CLE lessons from time to time.

I still have absolutely no regrets about teaching him young, despite the initial stress of this school year.  Our learning time together was always intended to be fun and never took too much of his day.  He had plenty of time to play.  More than teaching him anything specific, I think I taught him how to learn.  He LOVES to read and drinks in stories, characters and information.  He has fantastic recall and figures things out quickly.  He likes learning and being challenged.

More than that, looking back at the pictures from when he was little, early education gave us SO many memories.  While he may not remember every art project, game or activity, having that time focused on just him is invaluable to both of us.  I'm incredibly grateful for that time and wouldn't trade it for anything.
Christmas morning he was surrounded by a pile of toys and the first thing he wanted to do was read.  Proud mama!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Summer Homeschool Schedule

This time of year, the internet abounds with bloggers posting about the summer plans.  Heck, we even made our own Summer Bucket List!  However, since I'm a full time mommy and full time teacher, school year evenings usually consist of making and cleaning up from dinner, lots of grading, errands and chores.  Xander didn't learn a thing in preschool (well actually, he learned some incorrect "science," but that's another story), so instead of winding down for the summer, we are excited to start up his summer school!

Balancing Choices
 The biggest challenge for me was to find a list of school activities that was manageable.  I tend to get a bit overzealous and bite off more than either of us can chew, so the goal was to do something that we could do most days this summer.  I decided on 4 things that needed to be done daily, with an option of 2+ additional things to be rotated.  I made these check-off sheets and laminated them, so that he can keep track of what he has done.  We'll keep a tally on the one for the weekly list, to make sure we are rotating.

 Daily Work
  • Christian Light Publications Math - Level 2 (~10 min)
    • Since these are simple, self paced workbooks, I'm hoping we'll start them together this summer, and he can take them to kindergarten with him, since kindergarten math will be too easy
  • Read Primary Math 1A/1B with Mommy (~10 min)
    • We're going to read through these together to get more of the problem solving math skills
  • 30 min Non-Fiction Reading of Xander's choice
    • We have oodles of books that he loves to peruse.  Everything from books about specific animals to How Things Work books.
  • 30 min Any Reading of Xander's choice 
    • To be honest, Xander would have probably done this and the nonfiction reading on his own anyway.
  • Pick at least 2 other learning activities listed below (most take 5-20 min)

2-3 Times per Week
He gets to pick which ones of these he wants to do when, but I'll have him cross them off the list, so that he gets some variety during the week.
   
Earning Money
Last summer I wrote about "Hiring" My 4 Year Old.  I still want to teach him about earning and saving money, but I don't want to pay him for helping out around the house.  I feel like that is just being a helpful member of the family.  Therefore, I pay him for his school work.  We had been on a sticker system for my school year, but now that we're on summer and more work is expected, I needed to change the system.  He's going to get a dollar a day for every day that he completes all 6 activities.  He can also earn a bonus dollar if he completes at least 25 learning activities on the weekly work page.  However, I don't want him doing more than 5 of any one category to count (otherwise he'd do nothing but iPad games, learning videos and keyboarding).  



I hung his lists next to his desk (on the side of my desk)
Our IKEA bins have been re-purposed yet again to hold his worksheets/workbooks.



Friday, June 3, 2016

Summer Bucket List

Finally!  School is out, the freedom of summer is here!  Since last summer was spent fixing up the new house, I decided that I want to squeeze every ounce of fun time with Xander I can out of this summer.  So what did I do?  Made a list of course!

Xander actually helped me quite a bit.  We had fun brainstorming what types of things would be special enough to go onto our bucket list, and what things were more everyday type things.  We also made sure to leave space to add new things we think of.

Some of the Summer Bucket List
Picnic in the park
Learn to ride a bike
Go to the zoo
Decorate T-Shirts
Go on a hike
Go bowling
Go on a picture walk (giving him an old digital camera)
Pajama day
Fix ALL the Legos
Decorate cupcakes
Sprinkler party
Go to Chicago to visit friends
Splash Park
Make Ice Cream
Movie and popcorn night


I'd love to hear what is on your list so that we can add to ours!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Games for Brains: Flash Point

Flash Point
Playing Time: ~45 Minutes.
Players: 1-6
Overview:
This game is definitely not marketed for children, nor would I buy it just for the kids.  It is one of the first cooperative board games I got.  My dad, brother and I played often, especially around holiday breaks.  The idea is that you're all firemen trying to save victims from a burning building.  You have to put out fires, prevent explosions and save the people, before too many of the die or the building falls down around you.  While it is slightly complicated at first, it was easy enough once we got going.  I also liked that the rules included quite a few variations to make it simpler or more difficult, including two different playing boards.  When Xander was about 4-4.5 he started joining in the play.  Since everyone playing either wins or loses together, it encourages cooperative play and strategy, which was perfect for bringing him in.  I'm a little bit selective about which character I give him, since some of them have complicated rules, but he's pretty good at knowing what he/should do on his turn.  It is a great way for him to be included in something we would want to be doing when we get together anyway.  I think this is a great introductory game as a bridge to the world of grown up games.  We've played with some non gaming friends (including a 10 & a 12 year old) and they seemed to pick it up just fine. There's really no reading required for this game (other than reading the rules).

Brain Value:
While it doesn't explicitly focus on any academic skills, I see a lot of logic development.  Since we plan strategy cooperatively, he can hear the adults' thought process and pick up our reasoning.  He's started being able to plan ahead a little bit and figuring out which is the best use of resources and number of moves.  These are skills he can carry over into other games and even other types of tasks.

Taking it Beyond the Game:
First of all, the game pieces are little fire fighers, so Xander usually has the extras to play with while we're playing the game.  He also likes to use the game to come up with his own imaginative games.  I believe when this picture was taken there were a couple of sibling firefighters with super powers that had to save the people.


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