Thursday, December 15, 2011

Teaching 5rd graders Character Qualities

The core subjects, foreign language, science projects, music lessons, ball teams... we teach our children many things each day of their lives. But do we as parents keep in mind that our children need to be taught character qualities that will serve them for the rest of their lives?

Character qualities are those things that make the difference between being a good person and a great person. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, these are what I think of when I hear of character qualities that can make a person great. These men were more than just nice people. They lived honesty, dilligence, patience, and strove each day to be what they believed was a good man.

Dilligently teaching our children to live the character qualities of mercy, justice, honesty, thankfulness, humbleness, dilligence, and hard work is becoming more difficult. The culture in which we live no longer values these characteristics. Even though the great men that we see as leaders of our times exhibit these characteristics. Though it may no longer be the "politically correct" way to teach our children - character qualities are never out of style.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Get 'Em Reading

Reading is one of those absolutely necessary subjects that really make or break how your child learns. Learning to read is essential. We use it in all types of learning from math to science, from technology to music. Reading is the foundation to learning - the gateway to knowledge. So, getting our children reading for fun and for enjoyment is paramount to breaking beyond the "reading cuz I have to" syndrome.

Yet, the underlying question is - How? How do we get our children from reading to reading for recreation? My best advice is to take them to the library, buy them good classic books that have inspired readers for generations, and show them the importance of reading by example. There are awesome online reading programs out there as well that will really get your child interested. If they can see that reading is important to all members of their family, they will realize that it must be essential for life. Remember that old adage, "More is caught than taught?" Your child will catch the reading bug if they can see it exhibited in your life!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spelling, part 2

Spelling, part 2
Last time, I introduced the idea of spelling being a difficult subject in our house, but I didn’t really give you any solutions. This time I hope to present a couple of ways that we seek to spell better in our fifth grade homeschool. One of the methods we use for spelling is actually the one she suggested in first grade. We start the lesson in spelling with a pre-test. The words she can spell she only has to write one more time before the spelling test. The words she gets wrong on the spelling pre-test go on to round two. She must do four kinds of practice on the word before she can test on it again. She does word finds, she must find the incorrect words within a paragraph and spell them correctly, and she must use it in a sentence, spelled correctly. If she misspells it on any of those occasions, then she must write the word five times. Just the threat of repetition causes her to work harder at learning how to spell the words that are assigned.

I have also discovered word games. Somehow learning to spell words by means of a game makes it all a little easier to swallow. There is a site out there, Spelling City, that allows you to put in your own spelling lists and then do activities and games with those lists. My child is an avid reader and because of that she can recognize a word if it is spelled wrong, even if she can’t spell it correctly. What we do with this ability is to let her proof read paragraphs with spelling words spelled incorrectly within the text. I figure recognizing the incorrect spelling is half of the battle. We tackle the other half of the battle by writing the word correctly.

Another thing that we do to improve spelling without a lot of repetition is to do word ladders. I have not found a place yet that will allow me to make my own word ladders with our spelling list, but I have found books from Scholastic that offer about one hundred word ladders. One book is second and third grade, the other is fourth and fifth grade level. I do believe that they offer one more at a higher lever. Even if they don’t you can find word ladders on line. Not familiar with word ladders? It is a list of 10 clues, and the process works like this. The first word might be “well”. The next place is a blank with a hint like, “home for a clam, take away one letter, add two letters.” “Shell” would be the answer. The next hint might be, “fall, past tense, take away two letters, add one letter.” “Fell” would be the resulting word. This not only works for spelling word family words, but it makes her use her brain in critical thinking, sequencing, and the meaning of words.

Spelling time used to be filled with tears, dug in heels, and butting heads. I won’t say that it is sunshine and roses every day now, but it is getting better, thanks to trying different methods than the tried and true repetition, things are improving. If you are encountering problems with your fifth grader in spelling, try thinking outside the box, it just might work for you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spelling, part 1

Spelling, part 1
If your child is anything like mine spelling time is a real struggle. My child is smart enough and able to do the spelling that I ask her to do, the problem arises when I ask her to practice or review. Somewhere along the way my fifth grader decided that if she was asked to do any subject, any assignment more than once the teacher obviously thought she was stupid. I say “Somewhere along the way” but I can pin it down to spelling lessons in the first half of first grade. I know this is where the problem started because my then first grader came home and announced that she was stupid. For a moment I didn’t even know what to say to her. I quickly pulled myself together and reassured her that she was far from stupid, offering as proof that I had paperwork that indicated that she was plenty smart. She insisted that she must be the stupidest kid on the planet. Why did she think that you ask? Well, it seems that spelling words had been presented on Monday, revisited on Tuesday, practiced on Wednesday, studied on Thursday and reviewed one more time on Friday morning in preparation for the dreaded spelling test on Friday afternoon. I tried to explain that repetition was a valid way of cementing knowledge but she would have none of that. She even asked if she could just take the test on Monday, cold, and then only review the words that she didn’t know how to spell.

As you can imagine, my suggestion to the teacher was met with horror. That was not how spelling words were taught and learned and there would be no deviation from the tried and true method. And I can understand the refusal to offer learning alternatives. What if every one of the twenty five students in the class had to be taught the same fifteen words in a different way? My child then figured out that certain work, particularly on spelling words, was not for credit. She refused to do the work if it was not for credit. Even though she was maintaining an ‘A’ average, she was labeled difficult and oppositional. And I can see that actually. Eventually this, and nine hundred seventy five other reasons, led us to become homeschoolers.

And so, the dilemma, how was I supposed to teach her spelling, vocabulary or arithmetic without repetitions? I’m still working on that but I do have a few things that we have tried and that work, sometimes. You have heard of the television show “Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader?” Some days, at my house, I’m not sure that I am. The trick is to stay ahead of her. Stay tuned, next time I will discuss some things that we use in our quest for the correctly spelled word!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Foreign Language as a part of your homeschool curriculum

Foreign Language
Have you started our fifth grader learning a foreign language yet? There are a number of schools that start children at early elementary age in a dual language immersion program. Some other schools begin foreign language learning in a upper elementary school. So, if you haven’t started yet, you are not really behind but certainly by middle school children should begin their foreign language studies.

The next question, of course, is which language should you teach your child? That answer is easy if a parent speaks another language. You may also consider a language as your choice if a grandparent or someone else close to the child is willing to teach the language. Some parents use the consideration of family history as the determining point of what language to teach. For example, if all of the extended family is from India, Spanish would probably not be the first choice of a foreign language to teach. Likewise, if the extended family is from Central America, Swedish would probably not be the first choice.

Some parents look at which foreign language they believe will be most useful in the child’s future academics and profession. With the hopes of rearing a doctor, some parents will choose for their child to learn Latin. Other parents say that since Latin is considered a dead language, there is no point to learning a language that no one speaks any more. Perhaps a parent believes that all business indicators point toward increasing the relationships between the United States and China. In response to that belief, they might point their child toward learning Chinese in some form.

For the most part, any education in a second language is a plus. There are very few negatives to instructing your child in a second language. It is possible that your child has a liking for a certain culture or country and would like to learn the language because of the interest. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is a fairly mainstream language. If your child has fallen in love with a small Pacific island, the only island on which a particular language is spoken, and population on that island is thirty, that language will not generally serve the child as well as French or Italian would. With your child’s long term language acquisition in mind, there is another language your might not have considered. More universities are accepting American Sign Language as a second language.

After you have determined what language your child will learn as a second language, the next choice you need to make is closely related. How will your child learn that language? There are many ways to learn another language. If you have the benefit of having a family member or friend who is going to teach your child the language, then the how of that language learning is accomplished is easy. There are computer programs that show the student pictures and the word for that picture and have a native speaker pronounce the word. This, of course, will get more complex as the student gains more knowledge. Many libraries have a program called Mango Languages. If you sign up through your local library this may be low cost or even free. The program offers many languages including some that are not very mainstream. Another way to learn a foreign language is the way that it is done in many schools. Get a text book, workbook and CD’s and just work through it. This is a better way to acquire written language than it is for acquiring fluency in spoken language. Community centers and some churches have foreign language programs that are offered.

Regardless of how your child learns a second language, there are a couple of things to remember. Sometimes learning about grammar in another language helps a student understand English grammar better. Language is a gateway to other countries and other cultures.

The only problems I see with second language acquisition is not really with the choice of languages or how that language is taught. For some students, particularly those who are having trouble with English language acquisition to begin with will find it more difficult or even impossible to become fluent in a second language. For example, children with dyslexia sometimes have a much harder time learning to read and write English. By adding yet another language on top of the difficulties they are already having, it is possible to overwhelm that child. The most important thing about teaching your child a foreign language is to keep in mind individual learning styles. If your child thrives on text books and workbooks, try that. If on the other hand, your child is like mine and wants the information presented as fast as possible, bright colors, moving pictures and intense interaction, then one on one language learning or a computer program might be a better bet. If you haven’t yet started your fifth grader in a second language then there is no better time than the present to get started! Good luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Field Trips, part 2

Field Trips, part 2
Last time we discussed a couple of types of field trips that you might consider including in your fifth grade homeschool curriculum. Other grade levels can benefit from those, as well, so if you are home educating more than one age child these field trips can work for them with some adaptation. The next type of field trip might be considered the physical field trip. This type of field trip is mainly about the physical activity involved. Bowling, roller skating, ice skating, and rock wall climbing are examples of this kind of field trip. Of course, if you need these field trips to be tied in with school work, then feel free to talk about kinetic energy versus potential energy, talk about friction, talk about the laws of thermodynamics, talk about the freezing temperature of water. But don’t feel obligated to make every moment educational. Sometimes physical field trips are about the sheer joy of getting out and doing something. If your child learns something along the way, you are ahead of the game.

Be on the look out for field trips of opportunity. These come in many forms and are often based on someone’s hobby or business. Look for the local pilot’s club where you could find a pilot or two who might be willing to talk about airplanes, aerodynamics, and perhaps take children up for a short flight. Maybe someone you know is into archery, see if you can tap into their passion for archery to teach a small group of children how to shoot an arrow. Suppose there is a dairy and milk processing facility near by, see if you can get a field trip to see how milk gets from the cow to the cheese stick.

These are just a few of the field trip opportunities that are available to your child. Fifth graders are at a great age. They are curious, generally under their own power to move about, they are able to listen, and obey rules. As their educational fields broaden, they know more about more things, and are willing to explore new opportunities. Use their increasing independence to your advantage when it comes to finding field trips in which to engage your student.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Field Trips, part 1

Field Trips, part 1
Last time we talked about the importance of homeschool groups and mentioned field trips. This time I would like to focus on the types of field trips that our fifth graders might be interested in participating in. First, let me say that we should not be afraid of field trips. Field trips do not have to be expensive or take all day. They do not even have to be with a group. Sometimes the most memorable field trips are excursions you make with just your family. And don’t worry, no matter how basic or elaborate the field trip, your child will learn something.

Let’s start with the most basic and simple field trip. What is your child interested in? My fifth grader loves animals and plants. So, here are a couple of field trips that might interest her. What about a trip to the pet store? Why do I consider this a field trip? Well, we get to see a number of different animals, we get to see lots of different kinds of fish. We can talk about what kinds of habitats those fish and animals live in, and what kind of care those animals need to be healthy when kept as pets. We can look at foods, toys, and other items for various animals and decide if those items help the animal live a happy and healthy life. It has been said that a man (woman, or child) who cannot relate to animals and care for their well being is fundamentally missing something that makes them human, compassion and empathy. So, is the pet store a field trip? Absolutely.

Along similar lines, what about a trip to a plant nursery or garden center. Learning about growing things and their care is worth knowing. Talk about why the plants are green, talk about how some of them provide food, talk about growing seasons, talk about the conversion of potential energy to usable energy, sunlight to plant sugars. Both the pet store and the nursery are short outings, but can be enjoyable learning experiences none the less. The added bonus is that they can also be free and spur of the moment.

Another kind of field trip is the museum trip. There are many types of museums. This makes it possible to find a museum that is hands on, or follows along with a social studies lesson, or a science lesson. You can often find museums that are just for fun, like a train museum. But wait, could a train museum also provide a history lesson and a transportation lesson? Children’s museums are often aimed at elementary school children, and offer many hands on type of exhibits. Many children love to learn through doing and touching and this type of museum is ideal for them. There are also the more adult oriented museums, such are art and natural history museums. What better way to present Impressionist paintings, dinosaurs, and mineral collections than to actually get to see them up close and personal? Next time we will discuss other types of field trips.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homeschool groups

Homeschool Groups
When I was a new homeschooler I was so worried about handling the basics that field trips were very low on my priority list. The only thing I knew about field trips was what we had experienced in kindergarten and half of first grade in public school. I will tell you that those experiences did not leave me wanting to be in charge of my own field trips. The experience was not a good one, I can assure you of that. As my child and I became more accustomed to homeschooling we began to need the outings and the stimulation of field trips. This was early in our homeschooling still, and I had not really become familiar with a homeschool group that conducted organized field trips. At that point we were doing field trips on our own. We have since joined two local homeschool groups. One of those is a small, cozy group of about eight families and is very local to where we live. We do get together with these children for park days, play dates, and sometimes movies. The biggest problem with the small group is that there are several families that have very small children, toddler aged or younger. Because of this there are almost 20 children in this group, but about half of them get excluded when the field trip is age sensitive. This makes it difficult if we need a certain number of children to get the price break on a field trip.

The other group we belong to is a much larger group, containing between two and three hundred families. This group has its benefits and its drawbacks. And those benefits and drawbacks are almost directly opposite of the benefits and drawbacks in the small group. Because the larger group does have so many members it is possible to create age specific field trips. Let me give you an example. We went on a field trip to a local indoor rock climbing facility. We needed 25 climbers to get the group discount. There was an age limit on the low end, there could be no climbers less than 6 years old. The other limitation was that every climber had to have a spotter. The more spotters, the shorter the line for children to climb. Since we also had the place rented for only two hours, this was important. Our smaller group could not have made the discount volume, many families would have had only one climber out of four or five children, and that parent could not be spotter all the time because they were also responsible for the younger children who were not climbing. Have you ever thought about how cranky a three year old gets, waiting for big brother or sister while they do something fun? The larger group also means that the tasks of organizing and being the contact person for field trips gets spread around a lot more. Consider this, if you could get your child in on twenty field trips, but you only had to plan and take point on one field trip, would that work better than being planner and point person on every field trip you ever went on?

The drawback to the large group is a bonus for the small group. With so many families in the large group it is almost impossible to get to know everyone. I have belonged for several years now and I know I have not met half of the families involved. In the small group, I know all of the parents, even consider them my friends. My child considers the children of the small group her friends because every time we get together, it is the same group of children. In the large group, you might see a child at one activity and not see that same child again over the course of the next four or five months, depending on which field trips you sign up for, and which field trips the other family signs up for.

I think it is important at the fifth grade stage to have both groups. Small groups are important for the formation of friendships. Larger groups are important because they provide a wider range of opportunities for field trips and experiences in general. Our fifth graders are looking for social networks outside of their families as the grow in independence. They need the exposure to people from many walks of life. They also need personal relationships. When you look at homeschool groups it is important that that group can provide you with what you need at the time. Don’t think that because you belong to one group, it will meet all of your needs. It is important to keep your options open, and having homeschool contacts in more than one organization is certainly a way to do that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Plants and Animal Cells, part 2

Plant and Animal Cells, part 2
Last time we looked at the similarities between plant and animal cells. As a review, the six basic things common to both plant and animal cells are: cell membrane, nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, ribosomes, Golgi apparatus, and mitochondria. There is one other organelle that is present in both plant and animal cells, however, it is much larger, and takes a much more prominent place in the cells of plants. This is the vacuole. The vacuole is essentially a storage facility. It can store water for the plant cell, it can store food for the plant cell, and additionally it can store waste. Because it can store water, a plant that is in need of water will have used the stored water in the vacuoles and cause the cells to become less full, so they are less rigid and the plant is droopy. A plant whose cells have full vacuoles is a plant that is getting enough water.

There are a number of differences between plant and animal cells, as well. Plant cells have cell walls, in addition to cell membranes. The cell wall’s purpose is to make the cell more rigid and is made of cellulose. Plant cells also have chloroplasts. They are what make plants green. These are not found in animal cells at all. Chloroplasts are what convert the sun’s energy into sugar. This sugar in turn feeds the cells, as well as the whole plant. Eventually those sugars are what feed people and animals as well. So while animal cells do not contain chloroplasts, they are vital to the survival of animals.
This brief review of plant and animal cells is by no means all inclusive. Go out to the internet and find pictures and more detailed descriptions. And find more pictures. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case that is completely true. Seeing a line drawing of a plant cell and an animal cell next to each other makes the similarities and the differences easy to point out. Also, remember that in fifth grade science, may be the first time your student learns about cells, but it will certainly not be the last. Expect for your student to have to label more and more complex pictures of cells as they advance through the grades.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Science, Plants and Animal Cells, part 1

Plant and Animal Cells, part 1
One of the curriculum standards for fifth grade science is cells. Both plant and animal cells should be included in the study. Your student needs to be able to identify the various cell structures of the cells. He will also need to know the function of the cell structures. How is the student supposed to accomplish this, you ask? Relax homeschooling parent! The internet is full of places that you can investigate to get the content for your unit on cells and cell structure. I’ll give you the basic rundown on plant and animal cells, the similarities, and the differences.

One of the things we need to know is that all living things are made up of cells. Cells are the building blocks of both plants and animals. Cells are responsible for energy production, energy to run the cell, but also to run the larger organism that the cell is a part of. All cells are not created equal however. There are prokaryotic cells, these are simple cells, they lack a true nucleus, and do not have complex cell structures. There are also eukaryotic cells. Plant and animal cells are eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotic cells contain a true nucleus and are considered complex cells. Now, let’s look at the things that are similar between plant and animal cells. First of all, both plant and animal cells contain a cell membrane. This membrane encircles the entire cell, and keeps the contents of the cell separated from the fluid on the outside of the cell. A cell membrane is semi-permeable, meaning it lets some things into the cell, but not everything. It also lets some things out of the cell. The next thing that both plant and animal cells have in common is a nucleus. The nucleus is contained within a nuclear membrane, this keeps the contents of the nucleus separate from the cytoplasm of the cell. One of the most important things contained within the nucleus is the DNA. DNA is the genetic material that will be passed on to other cells.

Endoplasmic reticulum is another organelle within the cytoplasm of the plant and animal cells. There are two types of endoplasmic reticulum, or ER. There is smooth ER which is responsible for the production of lipids and the metabolism of carbohydrates within the cell. Rough ER has nodules attached to its wall, these nodules are ribosomes. Rough ER is responsible for the synthesis of proteins. The ribosomes are primarily responsible for this synthesis of proteins. Ribosomes can be found attached to the rough ER, or within the cytoplasm. Mitochondria are also part of both plant and animal cells. Mitochondria are responsible for converting food energy, which is potential energy, into a form of energy that can actually be used. Mitochondria also contain DNA though not nearly as much as the nucleus. The final organelle that is common to plant and animal cells are Golgi bodies or Golgi apparatus. The Golgi apparatus is responsible for taking the proteins that are produced by the ribosomes and converting those proteins into other, more complex materials. In a way, Golgi apparatus are also used as a storage system for the cell. Next time we will look at the differences between plant and animal cells.

Friday, July 15, 2011

5th Grade Language Arts

5th Grade Language Arts
The fifth grade school year is a very important year where language arts and vocabulary are concerned. Standards based bench marks indicate that students should be able to use grade appropriate vocabulary. From a parental and teacher point of view that statement doesn’t really help us decided what is the appropriate vocabulary. Aside from giving you a specific list of what words are considered grade appropriate for a fifth grader, it might be more helpful to let you know what kinds of words are the ones you need to concentrate on to help your child master fifth grade vocabulary. On the list of language arts skills that are necessary for your child to know at this age are the use of synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. I’ve noticed that my fifth grader was having a great deal of difficulty with synonyms and antonyms until we learned a memory jog. Synonym starts with an “S” as does the word “same”. So synonyms are words that mean the same thing. Similarly, antonyms are words that have opposite meanings, and so “A” stands for anti- or against. To add to the list of knowledge for your fifth grader consider homonyms. The memory jog, or mnemonic we used for homonym was “homo” means the same, and “nym” sounds like “name”. So homonyms are words with the same name. Then all she had to learn was that homonyms sound the same, but they have different meanings and often different spellings. Once we figured this out that mnemonics helped my daughter learn the meaning and function of words, she was able to catch on very quickly.

Once I figured out that my child worked well with mnemonics to keep the meanings of words straights I started looking for other places to use mnemonics. Prefixes and suffixes are important parts of your fifth graders language arts study. So we thought about how to remember prefixes went at the beginning of the word and suffixes went at the end of the word. My fifth grader definitely knew that PRE-school comes before regular school just like PRE-fixes come before regular words. She also knew that Seniors are finishing up school, like Suffixes are finishing up words. Of course, the mnemonics that we use may or may not be the ones that work for your child, but they are a useful device, particularly if your child is having difficulty remembering all the vocabulary devices they must remember to be on grade level. Let your child make up their own mnemonic devices. Let them put the devices to music if they wish. Anything that helps your fifth grader remember is a good thing.

Another aspect of vocabulary for fifth graders are words with Greek and Latin roots. In the curriculum we used we studied words with Greek roots in language arts at the same time we studied ancient Greece in social studies. Additionally, we were reading “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series for entertainment. All of this made the words with Greek roots more interesting. I didn’t have to hear complaints about learning root words at all because the study of them had become a multi-faceted lesson, not just a meaningless drill. Learning roots, particularly words with Latin roots, will come in handy for your child when they begin to learn foreign languages that are based on Latin, such as the Romance languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. The other place these words will help your child is as they continue their studies in sciences. You might be surprised at how relating language arts to science, and social studies makes the learning easier and more natural.
Don’t expect your child to get the meaning of the root words immediately. Learning a few roots at a time, particularly if you can come up with catchy or memorable ways to remember the meaning of the roots will help your fifth grader build a wide and varied vocabulary.

Last but by no means least, try using vocabulary word games to help your child practice and cement the information your are helping them gather about the meanings of words, and the uses of the various linguistic concepts such as homophones and idioms, prefixes and suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. I will tell you that I love education that is fun and vocabulary games are certainly more fun than writing words over and over, or simply using the words in sentences. More fun can equate to more memorable. I’m not saying that writing words, repeating words, and creating sentences is a bad thing, I just think if we have to learn something, we should find a way to make it fun! Don’t be afraid to mix up subjects such as science and social studies with your language arts curriculum. Relate the subjects to each other, and watch as a web of knowledge is woven that will help your child learn faster, and retain more of what they learn.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Science, Making NASA real, part2

Science, making NASA real, part 2

In our homes, NASA has had impacts on our daily lives. When was the last time you picked up a cordless drill? Did you know that you can thank NASA and Black and Decker for the development of the rechargeable battery that powers it? They didn’t do it to help us in our daily lives, but regardless of why they did it we certainly benefit from it. The smoke detector, and home insulation are also items we benefit from that were developed by NASA.

There are several technologies developed by NASA that indirectly help you and your children when you visit the grocery story. According to the NASA site, technologies have been developed that help crop dusters hit the crops at which they are aiming, they developed a robotic mother pig that takes all the variables out of raising piglets, and a satellite that can tell when it is time to harvest potatoes. Also along the food front is the location and measurement of commercial schools of fish. Together, these things make our food supplies more reliable and harvested at the best time for maximum yield.
There are many other goods and services that were developed by NASA for the space program that have been translated into our daily lives. This “technology transfer” needs to be brought to the attention of our children, particularly at this point in their education. When kids are doing their 5th grade science, it is important to get them excited about science in all of its forms. There are many people in scientific fields today because of the influences they were exposed to with the Apollo program.

Another way to expose them to NASA and the importance of continuing the research and development that is done there is to take field trips to NASA facilities. Of course, it is not quite as easy to get into these facilities as it used to be, but any trouble you have to go through is worth it. Space Center Houston is the official visitor center for the Johnson Space Center in Texas. This is where mission control is, and is the home of the manned space flight program. There is the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where shuttle missions take off from, and often return to. Stennis Space Center, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hosts a great little museum, but their main purpose in life is to test shuttle rockets. There is a large nature preserve surrounding it also. Then there is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is in Huntsville, Alabama. Again, there is a great museum, several rides, and gift shops. These are the space centers in the southeastern U.S. but there are a number in the northeast part of the country and also in the desert southwest. Any of these space centers offer children a great field trip opportunity, hands on science, and a good dose of where we have been and where we are headed. Try to make space, and scientific technologies real for your children. The more real science is to them, the more engaged they will be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Science, Making NASA real, part 1

Science, Making NASA real, part 1
When I was a child, and yes, I’m showing my age, the big news in science was the race to the moon. For children of that era, the Moon was the unattainable, and yet it was the dream of an entire country. Our president at the time, John F. Kennedy had laid a challenge before the American people, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” He gave the speech on September 12, 1962.

For those of us who were children then, the race to the moon became a focal point. Our parents ensured that every portion of the manned space flight program that was televised was a family event, we all stopped whatever we were doing and gathered around the television set. We were allowed to stay up late the night in July of 1969 when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. It was eight years, one month and twenty six days after Kennedy spoke to Congress, and presented the Congress and the American people with achieving one of the most monumental scientific milestones in the history of mankind.

For us, space, exploration, and NASA were all very real.

Even in the last 30 years of the 20th century space technology was real in the form of space shuttle missions, and the singular tragedy of the explosion of The Challenger in January of 1986. February 2003 brought the space program into focus again with the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Our children in fifth grade were young in 2003, certainly before the age of an ability to follow what was going on with the space program. For our children, there is no seminal mission regarding the space program. Indeed, it even looks like there will be no mission at all. The journey to revisit the Moon has been cancelled, the journey to Mars is still out of reach. For our children, the space program appears old, tired, and approaching extinction. It is important to remember that even if we are not “exploring strange new worlds” the space program still produces scientific break throughs that are important in our every day lives. And because of that, if no other reason, it is important to make NASA and space important and real to our children. Generating interest in science with our fifth graders now means we may be planting the seed that will lead to a harvest of research and innovation as our children become adults.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Safety, part 2

Safety, part 2

Remember that one of the benchmarks for fifth graders is increased independence. And we have been fostering that independence. One of the problems we face at this age is that the children are out of arm’s reach. We don’t want them to hang on our arms or hold our hands, yet we do not want them out of our sight either. The child, on the other hand, is spreading his or her wings. Sometimes children become over confident in their ability to handle situations with strangers. The children often believe they are too big to be abducted, or too strong to be abused. Without making them afraid they must be reminded that they are never too big, or too strong.

Sometimes it is possible to strike a balance between allowing the child some autonomy and providing for his or her safety by reminding them that that it is always alright to say, “NO”!

For years we have been drilling into our children to be polite, and to respect adults. But it is not alright for an adult to be inappropriate or even to make the child uncomfortable. Encourage your child to listen to their inner voice, the one that tells them something is not right. Children are perceptive, and because they are often still seeing the world in black and white, you can use this to your advantage in this learning situation. Encourage your child to report to you if they encounter a situation that doesn’t feel right. Accept that they may think or feel that something is not right, even if in the end the situation was not a dangerous one.

One other place that your need to make sure your “tween” is safe is on the internet. As your fifth grader gains reading and spelling abilities, they are more capable of accessing the internet; which make internet safety for kids that much more important. Often, online games feature chat, and though the game may be intended for children, tweens, or teens, not everyone who plays those games fit into one of those categories. It is important to remind your child that giving out personal information, including name, address, phone number, and email address is not acceptable. Remembering the “black and white” way that this age child often sees the world, it is important to remind them that not everyone they encounter on the internet is who or what they pretend to be.

In the end, if you have instructed your child regarding safety with strangers and on the internet you have armed them with the tools they need to keep themselves safer. If you tell your child what you need them to know, and then ask them what they understood, make sure that what you said and what they heard match up. Reassure them and in the process ease your own concern. Remind them that you just want them to be safe and that you love them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Safety, part 1

Safety, part 1

Keeping your fifth grader safe may be different than keeping a younger child safe. You have probably taught your fifth grader about stranger safety by now. Of course you have. Many parents begin these lessons with their children at a very young age. In the world we live in, it is probably a good thing to start this lesson early. As parents we must be ever vigilant when it comes to strangers, and we need to teach our children to be also. And of course it must be done without inducing fear of strangers, just a healthy respect. Unfortunately, sometimes in our busy lives we forget to reinforce that lesson as our children get older. And without constant reminders from us, our children may become complacent regarding safety. Let’s look at the lessons that we should remember to discuss with our fifth graders.

First of all, our job is to instill caution in our children, not fear. So it is important for us to speak to our children in an atmosphere that makes them think safety, not danger. We should remind our children that not all strangers are bad or evil but that some might be and it is not possible to tell by what they look like if they are the acceptable kind of stranger or the unacceptable kind of stranger. We should also remind them that it is alright to speak to a stranger if they get parental approval. As our fifth graders become more independent and look to others besides parents and siblings for social support, they will have to meet other people. And everyone they meet will be a stranger the first time they meet them. Additionally, children of this age lack the judgment that older teens or adults may have gained through experience. We know that the man who greets us every time we go to the store is an employee of the store, and a paid greeter. But because we nod back, or speak, and allow the child to accept stickers, what message are we giving our children? Are we telling them that this person is no longer a stranger? Fifth graders often still view the world in black and white. Either someone is a stranger or they are not. As adults it is our job to model the behavior we expect from the child, but we must also communicate. We must let them know that acquaintances are still strangers. Stay tuned for more information about safety, and a few reminders on how to achieve it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Martial Arts as P.E., part 2

Martial Arts as P.E., part 2
Beside a great physical work out, martial arts teaches many skills that are important in life. They teach self-control in the physical as well as emotional sense. They encourage students to set goals. The good thing here is that the goals are individual. A goal might be to learn the next three moves of a form, or to test for the next belt rank or to go for a national or world championship. Tae Kwon Do also teaches respect for those above and those below you, whether that is age or rank. Honor and integrity and respect are also key tenets of martial arts. For students with attention deficiencies, martial arts have been shown to improve behavior and academic performance. It is important to know that most martial arts are not taught in a manner that is mean or aggressive. Most martial arts are considered defensive rather than offensive and therefore do not encourage students to strike first or to start fights. And anyone can be a martial artist. At a tournament I recently attended there where students with physical disabilities, students with cognitive disabilities, young children, old people, athletes at the top of their form, and out of shape people who had decided to move in an attempt to improve their physical state. All are welcome.

There is another aspect of martial arts that I personally consider very important. At least in our form of martial art, there is no sideline coaching from parents. What this means is that there is not the over achiever parent, living vicariously through their child, yelling commands from the sidelines. In some team sports, even if you, as a parent, are not yelling at the children from the sidelines, there is another parent, yelling at their child, and by proximity, your child is being subjected to the yelling. There is not “team” pressure either. Each student of martial arts is not trying to meet another’s expectations. The ultimate goal in martial arts is for each student to live up to their own personal best.

In the grand scheme of things there are many positives to including a marital art in your child’s physical education program. The added bonus to the practice of a physical activity that can continue into adulthood is the fact that many of the virtues taught and practiced while participating in martial arts reinforces good character and a strong moral direction. This is done without assigning a religious aspect to that moral character. If you and your fifth grader are looking for a family friendly physical activity you should consider martial arts. Our Black Belt family did and we have only one regret – that we didn’t start sooner!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Martial Arts as P.E., part 1

Martial Arts as P.E., part 1

Your fifth grader is undergoing many changes in his or her life. Some of those changes are emotional, some are academic, and some of the most noticeable are physical. As his or her body changes the importance of physical education becomes more important. Many times children are started in team sports such as football, or soccer. These sports are great in that they teach team dynamics and sportsmanship. A great amount of dedication is also required for participation in these sports. The drawbacks to those kind of team sports are few but among the drawbacks, two stand out. the first is that they tend to be hard on the body and so as the child matures into an adult often the team sports played at younger ages are dropped. The other drawback is that they by definition of being team sports require the participation and cooperation of others.

I would like to present an alternative to team sports for your child’s physical education program. Martial arts are a great way to keep in shape. They require discipline and perseverance. They are a fairly solitary sport, meaning that they do not require the participation of another person or group of people to be active in them. Martial arts, for the most part are low impact sports and do not generally prove hard on joints or muscles. The martial art I know most about is Tae Kwon Do. For our family it is a physical activity that the entire family participates in, from the youngest member to the oldest. It provides a great cardio workout, provides over all muscle conditioning, and as an added bonus does not require any special equipment to practice the forms. Consider the lack of equipment necessary to practice the basic forms an added bonus as your child gets older. When she goes off to college, or travels on business trips, there is nothing to stop her from continuing her work outs in a martial art. Martial arts also allow for individual expression through training in various weapons. Among the weapons available to train with are sword, nun chucks, and staff, allowing a more complex and varied workout. Competition within the sport can be as strenuous or as laid back as you and your child would like it to be. Physical fitness is not the only benefit to martial arts as a part of your child’s physical fitness education. We will look at that more next time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Independence, part 2

Independence, part 2

As a homeschooling parent, I often do not accept failure to complete an assignment, nor do I accept lower than an 80% on graded assignments. If my child doesn’t finish, we continue until it is done. If my child doesn’t make the 80% I require, then we redo the lesson and the graded part of the assignment. I know that many homeschool parents follow this same sort of guideline for the quality of their student’s work. And until this year, it was probably a great way to run school, allowing each child the time they needed to learn and excel. But among the flaws in this system are a) the child has no responsibility for completion of the assignment, b)there is no reason to learn time management, and c) there are no consequences to for the student’s actions, or lack there of. This is a learning and growing time for me, too. I have to learn to let go, I have to micro-manage less. I have to allow my child to spread her wings, and hit the ground if she doesn’t get those wings open fast enough. The distance to the proverbial ground is shorter for a fifth grader than it will be for a tenth grader, or a twenty-one year old. As painful as it is for me to see her fail at something, it would be more painful to never see her truly succeed. To succeed, she must learn to be independent.
The road to greater independence for your fifth grader is paved with many lessons along the way. She needs to participate in chores around the house, she needs to be aware of nutrition and how to prepare at least snacks for herself, if not simple meals. She needs to be responsible to monitor and regulate not only her television time, but internet surfing. Some psychologist label the late elementary school years and middle school as the time of gaining competencies. It can be a difficult time for parents and students. As I go through this time with my own daughter, I remember one of the most important lessons my mother taught me. When I was getting ready to move out of her house for the first time, I was worried to bring it up to her, worried that I would hurt her, or disappoint her. The day I told her I was moving into an apartment she said, “All these years, I have given you responsibility, I have encouraged you to be independent. I didn’t raise you up to keep you, I raised you up to let you go.” That is an important lesson to remember.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Independence, part 1

Independence, part 1

Fifth grade is a pivotal year. When your child finishes fifth grade he will be a middle school student. What does that mean for you? Well, to begin with, your fifth grader should be working more independently. As a homeschooler it is important that your child meets this benchmark. The question is, how do you measure that independence? And how do you teach independence? If you are like many parents, you are worried that your child is growing up too fast. It is important to balance the independence you want to foster with responsibility. The year surrounding the fifth grade is a time when you will see a lot of changes in your child, physically, emotionally, and developmentally.

Fifth grade is a year for homeschoolers that marks the end of elementary and the beginning of the middle school years. Up until now, many home schooling parents have been right there with the child, instructing, directing and guiding every step of the learning process. This year is the time for the parent/teacher to start allowing the child to do some of the work on their own. Make an assignment, even if a small one, and allow the student to work at their own pace, with gentle reminders to stay on task if necessary. Do not totally disengage from the teaching process, however. Remember that your child is learning greater independence but has not yet mastered it. Another thing that allowing your child to do the assignment at his own pace will help with is time management. Present the amount of time allowed for the assignment at the same time as you present the content of the assignment. Allow the student to set a timer. Be generous with the time to begin with, because children must learn time management, it is not something that is natural to them. When the time is up, then have them stop the assignment. If it is not complete that is alright. Part of becoming independent is also learning that there are consequences to actions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Art, part 2

Art, part 2

One could argue that art and music are worth studying because of the beauty they bring to life. When time and funds are limited more justification for studying them might be needed. Let’s look at some of the skills taught in art and music. These are in no particular order.

A big item on that list of skills taught in art and music is perseverance. The first time a student draws a picture, it is rarely correct. The shape may be off or the color. Sometimes it just doesn’t look right. And so the student draws it again, improving on the outcome. The first dragon my fifth grader drew was barely recognizable. She decided the head was too big, the wings were not in the right proportion, the tail too short. But she continued to draw them, learning more about perspective, shading, proportion, and color. She persevered. And her dragons are pretty incredible now. As part of that perseverance she learned some other valuable skills as well. Among those skills were self-criticism, perspective, and prioritization.

We can look at those for a moment. Self-criticism, this is an ability to look at one’s own work, see it’s flaws, and explore how to improve on those flaws. In being able to be self-critical, students learn to be less sensitive to criticism by others. Perspective is another valuable skill. In a class of art students, sitting around a bowl of fruit, drawing what they see, each will have a different view point. This is important not only in art but in life. And finally, prioritization. The ability to put things in order of importance serves the student not only in the composition of a picture, or the understanding of a piece of music played by an orchestra. It helps them make judgements in other subjects and in life.

The study of art and music can be presented to a student in two different modes. They can be taught with an eye (or ear) to performance. For visual arts, this would be learning and employing the techniques to draw, or paint, or sculpt. For music, this would be actually learning to play an instrument, and the study of music theory. The arts can also be taught with appreciation in mind. In studying the Masters in art, the student can gain not only an understanding of the artist’s viewpoint, but also place those artists in historical perspective. By listening to and studying great composers of music, the student learns to appreciate tone, pitch, rhythm, and flow. In the process of studying art and music, from either perspective, the student gets to see beauty and hear it. Surely there is room in your homeschooling curriculum for that!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Art, part 1

Art, part 1

What is art and why is it important that we include it in home education?
By one definition, art is the product of human creativity. Wow, that is an incredible definition. Another definition says that art is what gives form to the imagination of man. By both of those definitions it is possible to see how important art can be to education. Beyond the nebulous definitions of art, it is possible to see that art and music are both associated with higher scores on standardized tests. If you just take that much information it is easy to see why art should be included in homeschool education.

In a time when society is putting increased emphasis on the scores of standardized tests, and schools are responding to the emphasis by “teaching to the test”, art and music are two types of courses that tend to be downsized. Some parents have pulled their children from institutional school settings as a response to the de-emphasis on art and music. And among those students who remain in schools, parents increasingly argue that art and music not be deleted from their children’s course of study. They quote the statistics that show higher test scores among students who study art and music as reasons to continue funding of those programs.

One question to ask here is whether the art and music actually cause the higher scores. Some people would argue that the study of art and music does not, in and of itself, make students smarter, resulting in the higher scores. Those people would argue that maybe the study of art and music actually teach skills that are not taught in other subjects. It is possible that new skills are not taught, but that skills taught in other subjects are reinforced in a different way. Next time, we will look at some of those skills.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Audio Books, part 2

Audio Books, part 2

Previously, we mentioned audio books and their benefits to young readers. Audio books offer the opportunity for your child to practice listening skills and comprehension. Improved attention span is another benchmark that gets listed for fifth grade. A story that is engaging, entertaining, and does not require working at the written word makes it easier for students to pay attention to it longer. Some students, with ADD/ADHD teaching challenges, find that because their hands can be occupied with something besides holding the book, they can listen longer, extending their attention span. Listening to an audio book also means that children with attention issues get more practice, and the reward is that they get a good story out of it. If their attention wavers, then they miss part of the story.

Even if you do not want to consider audio books actual “reading” there are two other skills that are improved by listening to audio books. Grammar and vocabulary use both can benefit. By hearing the way a sentence should be structured, and realizing what type of sentences sound right and which sound wrong, children learn by example. Vocabulary use and comprehension can also benefit from hearing the words spoken. Children are presented with examples of words used in sentences, in a spoken format, so that they know how a word is pronounced. By hearing the word in context, they are presented with a meaning of the words, and examples of use. Children who listen to audio books often score higher on vocabulary portions of tests.

As a final thought when deciding whether or not to utilize audio books in your child’s homeschool education consider these benefits. Your child will still get practice in critical thinking. He or she will still have practice in recognizing the literary elements of theme, character, plot, climax and conclusion. They will gain an appreciation for literature. And they will still have the opportunity to escape to other worlds and other times, exercising their imagination. Aren’t all of those examples part of the reason we read in the first place?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Audio Books, part 1

Audio books, part 1

Do you use audio books as part of your home school curriculum? We know that audio books are great for children who have reading or visual learning problems. The good news is that audio books are of great for all students. In the past, audio books were not looked on as educational materials as much as they were looked on as entertainment. I’m a firm believer that education should be entertaining. Of course, not all education can be entertaining, but the parts that can be, should be.

There are major benefits to listening to audio books. First there is the practice in listening skills . As your child hits fifth grade many of the benchmarks for that grade are things that cannot be measured. “Improved listening skills” is one of those benchmarks that you will just have to decide for yourself if it is an improvement over previous years. It is not really a fair test to see whether listening skills are improved by asking your child to do something, and that thing not getting done. In the larger picture, this benchmark is meant to show overall improvement in the skill. One way to measure if your child’s listening skills are improving is to have them listen to the audio book, and then tell the story back to you.

Another skill that can be improved by the addition of audio books to your child’s education is comprehension. Reading comprehension is a skill that should be constantly improving. While the audios are not technically reading, the same measurements of success can apply. Comprehension in its most basic form is simply the understanding of language. For some children, listening to the audio will be too fast, but for many children, especially those children who have difficulty reading, the audio book does not present the information too quickly. Audio books can have an added benefit for children whose primary language was not English. Many times those children comprehend spoken speech at a higher level than they can read. It seems a shame not to expose them to age appropriate literature because their reading has not caught up to their verbal skills.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What curriculum to use?

What is your choice of homeschool curriculum for your fifth grader? There are many different choices when it comes to curriculum. One choice is home study programs. These are very much like the traditional education offered by most public schools. Sometimes these are even administered by the school system, and books are rented or borrowed from them. The cost is usually covered by the local school system. As a general rule, these programs are heavily dependent on text books. Because they are administered by the school system, you are not as free to choose the subjects, or the publisher of the text books. Additionally, testing may be a requirement of the school system.

Another choice would a boxed curriculum. With these, all or the vast majority of needed instructional materials, including workbooks, are provided for a fee. Beyond that basic, there is a wide range of choices. There are secular, and religious based programs. Some of these operate much like correspondence courses in that assignments are done by the student, then mailed to the teachers, graded, and returned. Others of this type are the materials only, without any teacher input or guidance.

A third choice would be a curriculum that is a mix of text books and online content. This type of curriculum often uses some correspondence course work with text book work. The good thing about this type of system is that the parents have someone else teach courses they are unfamiliar with. Costs vary depending on the source of the “outside” courses. Text book costs plus correspondence type courses can easily cost as much as a full boxed curriculum. The last we will speak about is a completely online curriculum. There are several types of programs like this. One type is like slides or snap shots, the student must read each slide, there is not interaction with the program. The second is much more interactive. The screens are much more like movies, with the narrator moving and speaking.

To add to the choices available as a home school parent/teacher, you can choose any combination of the above curricula. Additionally, some programs operate as private schools, or umbrella schools. With these record keeping, reporting to state departments of education, transcripts, and diplomas or certificates of completion may be available. Some even offer counseling service and academic career planning.

In the end, the curriculum you choose for your fifth grader will depend on your child’s learning style, your teaching style, financial considerations, and whether you want your curriculum to reflect secular or religious content.