Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lava Lamp Science Activity

I presented this lesson in density to our Wednesday co-op. And then D wanted to do it again at home. Since I had purchased enough vegetable oil to fry three turkeys we made another oil and water lava lamp, a blue one, at home.

My quick co-op lesson was an off-shoot from the Montessori God With No Hands great lesson. In that lesson, we begin with God who created everything. And, God gave everything in the universe rules to follow. Heat would make particles rise, and cold would make particles fall. Some particles wanted to stick close together with other particles, and other particles didn't feel like mixing--ever. Our co-op group discussed briefly that particles that stick closer together tend to sink and go underneath particles that like to stay further a part.

Then we got down to the oil-y reality of things and brought out the oil, water and food coloring. We made our oil and water layers and discussed how the water particles want to stick closer together and that is why they sink to the bottom and the oil particles like to be further apart and they rise to the top. We also discussed that the oil and water particles really just don't like to mix--at all--ever. Then we got to seeing all this in action.

  • tall cylindrical see-through container
  • water
  • oil
  • food coloring
  • Antacid tablets

Put everything together as follows...
 Pour water into the bottom of tall see-through container. You'll need enough water to get about a 1/2" depth.

Drink any extra water if the container is too full.

Add 10 drops of food color to water.

 Mix the food color into the water, if necessary. Here we are using a metal chopstick.
 Slowly add oil to the top of the water. Add the oil slowly so that the oil will stay at the top instead of trying to mix into the water.
 Have your older brother supervise if you aren't sure when to stop pouring. You can fill it almost to the top since there is no foaming action in this activity. But do leave a little head room (haha, no really, there really is no foam when the water solution effervesces) because the popping gas bubbles tend to splatter the oil onto the sides of the container a tiny bit.
 Take your action tabs...
 Smile for the camera...
 Drop your action tab into the container, make sure it sinks into the water layer, and it will start to bubble.
The gas bubbles will make droplets of water rise upward in the oil and because the water is more dense than the oil, the water droplets eventually sink once again when the gas is released.
 Don't cap this activity while the mixture is releasing gasses. Well, you can cap it if you want to clean up a blue oily explosion when the entire activity eventually bursts. For the lava-lamp effect, an adult can lift the container and shine a flashlight under the bottom of the clear container. It looks pretty cool and everyone liked it a lot.

Now, I have to figure out how to dispose of this activity. Any ideas?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Prevent Temper Tantrums

       Or, Just How to Manage Them in the Moment

 My 8 year old still throws tantrums. There are tears and yelling, clenched teeth and fists, kicking legs and laying on the floor writhing around like a worm up on the sidewalk on a rainy day. What sets her off? A flute passage she didn't sight read perfectly. A cardboard box she can't cut open with safety scissors, or a lock she is trying to open with the wrong key. Episodes are brought on by an instant of provocation which is clearly apparent to the one who is going to lose it and anything but apparent to the mother who must soon manage a teary, snotty, loud, embarrassing mess.

So what is a parent to do with a child who whines, cries, and screams when they don't get their way? 

I think about Montessori Theory about childhood development. 

Okay, that is a lot of deep reading to do in a jiffy, so I'll just write a bit here about what I gleaned from my reading and study and how I apply it all to our day-to-day life.

Dr. Maria Montessori wrote that the child has his own innate power, that comes from within, to learn, to grow, and to acquire societal norms. As parents and guides, we aren't dictators, lecturers, or teachers. We don't have the ability to impart our nature or knowledge onto our children. We are simply humble assistants waiting in the wings to help the child when and where we can as they act in their own play of life. We are at most aiding the child in their own development, or merely gently guiding the child's progress, if you will. That inner fire that grows and transforms already burns within the child.

I believe that the child who is throwing a massive, ugly loud tantrum is simply send out a tiny meek plea for help. 

We are at church and my child is not happy about being there. There is wiggling, venturing under the pews, ripping of hymnals, loud talking, whining and complaining, crying, and then there is a break-down tantrum. **Okay parents take a short breath! **  Now, listen to that scream, echoing. Heads are turning in the pews with those eyes of dark judgement. But here it child is telling me, "wow, Mom, I know you want me to be here, but I really can't be here right now. Please, help me. My shoes are too tight. My tummy hurts a little and my hands need to touch something. Please, help me mom, manage this enormous, challenging, scary, prickly, uncertain life I know so little about. Please don't be mad at me. I need help. me."

So, as parents, we help those in need.

In the moment, I would remove my child from the church pew and bring them somewhere that meets their needs. We'd proceed to the narthex where there is space to walk, or stand and listen. We'd go outside, and walk among the flowers and the statues of Saints and admire God's creation. As an assistant to the child I would provide the environment the child's development needs in that moment. A quite contemplative environment is simply not what my child needs right then.

So, do we not go to church when the children are little?

 We go. We have always attended Sundays since they were infants. But I take extra measures to "prepare" their little bodies to be ready to sit still and act appropriately during that hour in the morning. Mass is an important time in our week. But the assistant must help prepare the child to be able to embrace this important experience.

What does our child need to be able to sit still and listen? Think of their body and their brains. Did they have a full breakfast that didn't contain too much sugar. Did they run hard outside in the sun before they came into a calm space? Did they get a good night sleep without interruption and wake well-rested? Are they wearing comfortable clothing and shoes, or clothing that is tolerable? Do they know what to expect and when there will be an end and they can run again? Do they know what behavior that is appropriate in Church? Have they practiced this behavior? Do they know that they have a safe-place to go when they feel like they are just going to burst and can't sit still anymore? And do they know that their assistant will help them be who they need to be with love and kindness and without anger and exasperation?

The tactics I use with my children may not be the ones that work for your children. Seek out what works for your child. What can you give them, or help them do, to prevent a tantrum before it happens, and save your sanity later.

 As parents we are assistants. We help furnish what the child needs for their own growth. How can a child in the midst of a temper tantrum be happy himself? Has a child ever said to you, "wow, that was a lot fun," after the tears have dried? Tantrums are no fun for them, and they are no fun for us either.

If we carefully listen for and respond well to those times that our children are calling for our help our children will begin to feel more secure in this world. And we will likely have to manage many fewer embarrassing tantrum-filled tense moments.

Hooray for that.

Post Script: For transparency purposes my family has never gone through this kind of a church situation. But, so you don't think I am a writer who doesn't research first, I've witnessed many an incident like this before.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Language, Logic and Latin Curriculum 2016-17

This post is a continuation of my previous curriculum post.  In this post I'll cover spelling, grammar, writing, reading, religion, logic and latin.


This year I decided to try out a purely textbook approach in an effort to encourage more independent work. So far this seems to work and it doesn't work. We are using this Spelling Workout series.  For now, D is working in 2nd grade book B, S in book C and T in book D. There is a teacher book that isn't much help. It is mostly an answer book. But the "workouts" aren't that complicated. There aren't really enough activities to help the child remember the spelling rules or practice spelling the words.

There are only three pages of exercises in each chapter.

So, I have instituted additional activities for practice. T and S write down spelling rules on a separate piece of paper and put this in their binders. At the end of a 5-chapter section we do spelling dictation, or you could call it a quiz, but we don't use grades.

I dictate the words to the child and they write them down. After, they check their work against the words in the book, and note any that are still a problem. Before the next review, they check the problem words from last time and we go over those again.

I'd like to say that we review the spelling rules at some point after writing them down, but so far this hasn't been incorporated in to our work.

The photo above is of T's level D book. On average all the kids know how to spell about 90%+ of the words correctly before the lesson.

In the meantime, we are always looking for correct spelling while working in other subjects. Many times the kids just know that a word is spelled a certain way but are unaware of the rule. Other times we need a reminder.

I don't know that I'll continue with this text next year. I liked the All About Spelling, but it is much more teacher-time-intensive so I don't know that we'll go back to this either.

Year End Goal:
Each child to finish their book.


This year I chose to use Voyages in Language from Loyola Press. This set of materials was super expensive, but really it was the teacher manual that was expensive.

 If you have a relatively good grammar background already and don't need the answers to all the exercises, you don't need the teacher manual.There is also a ton of additional resources on their website if you are interested in additional exercises, drills, etc. I am not. I think that there is enough drill between the text book and practice book already.

T is working in book 4 and S is working in book 3. In reality, book 4 is a bit easy for T, but he needed to learn traditional sentence diagramming before we could really moving on (see below). He has had quite a bit of the Montessori advanced grammar. S has not had the Montessori advanced grammar but has received all of the first grammar lessons. She also needs way more review than T.

There are 9 chapters that are divided up into different sections (about 9 for each chapter). We treat a chapter section as a single lesson.

The text book can be used alone if you didn't want to buy the practice book too. If your child is going to be using this curriculum as a review, like mine are, you could probably get away with not buying the text book and only purchasing the practice book.

S is more drawn to the practice book drills. T is more interested in the text book drills. Since his grammar sequence is tied to his writing curriculum sequence, I am having him do the exercises in the text book on notebook paper now, and we'll re-look at the exercises in the practice book as a review when his writing curriculum ties in.

One thing I've learned about my kids is that they need to review, review, review. They get it the first time for sure. Then it all goes to mush and leaks out their ears and is gone forever. "Huh? What is a noun?" Ugh. We need review!!

Oh, I don't love the definitions in these books. I feel the book's definitions are confusing and vague. The child and I end up coming up with different definitions for things like transitive and intransitive verbs by drawing on our Montessori grammar lessons.

This textbook material also has some writing exercises which I am ignoring. About half of the book is writing exercises. But if you look at how much these books cost you might want to use all of the material instead of only half the book.

D is doing something entirely different for his grammar studies. I had thought The Voyages series started in 3rd grade but there is a 1st grade book that D probably could have done. D was maybe too young to remember all of the first Montessori grammar lessons, or maybe not. For now we are using a combo of First Language Lessons Level 1 by Jessie Wise and a primary/elementary hybrid first introduction to Montessori Grammar. I am giving him the elementary presentation for each part of speech and he can read well enough to do the grammar boxes independently. But, his favorite activity is for me to write sentences on strips of paper and for him to find each word's corresponding grammar symbol. He also likes the short verbal lessons and memory work in the First Language Lessons book and so we will continue as he is interested.

Year end Goal:
T and S will finish their practice book.
D will receive all first Montessori elementary grammar presentations, complete grammar boxes, and begin Montessori advanced grammar and sentence analysis, and finish the First Language Lessons book.


I am using Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer for S and D. S is in level 2 and D is in level 1. I have The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease, and Workbook 1, and Workbook 2 and the separate student pages for each level. (I didn't realize that the Workbooks have the instructor scripts in them AND the separate student pages. So if you have one kid, or like photocopying, just get the workbook and not the student pages.)

I like how the Writing With Ease sequence takes the child through thinking about what they are going to write, remembering their thought sentences, and then executing the mechanics of notation. Wise Bauer explains in her book, Writing With Ease, how forming thoughts and then writing these thoughts down are two separate skills that must be learned differently.

So far, I think that both kids are working the level that is right for them. For D, his challenge is that he tires of copywork easily. I am endeavoring to teach him how to read the word, remember the word, and then segment the sounds as he writes each sound in sequence. His penmanship is much better when I dictate "c-a-t" than when I simply say the word "cat." (This tactic isn't in the book. It is something that I noticed works with D.)

For S, we are working to form complete sentences in her narrations. Many times she will narrate something that sounds like, "and then he went home, he was sleepy, and he got a drink and went to sleep." She produces lots of phrases, but not a whole lot that will make sense in written form. We are also working on detail retention and really developing a picture in our brain of what is going on in the story. (This also isn't in the book. It is something that I made up and seems to be helpful to her.)

With all of the chaos at the beginning of the year, and perhaps making an error in choosing T's writing curriculum, I am holding off on T's writing program for now. I hope to be able to pick it up again in a month or so.

Year end Goal:
D and S will finish their Writing with Ease pages.


Beyond what the kids decide to read on their own (and they read a lot on their own) I have instituted an assigned reading time. The boys read for about 45-60 minutes while S practices her flute after breakfast, and S has extra reading time just before bed. During this time the kids read books I have picked out for them that relate to our history or science studies. I also pick out additional quality fiction as well. So far, I've just been searching through the stacks, with my head tilted sideways to read the spines, and picking out books randomly. I focus on story content maturity, number of words on the page, illustrations, if there are any, vocabulary, and style. I skim some of the pages right there in the stacks to make sure that the books are somewhat appropriate. Our rule is that if the child has read a couple of chapters and doesn't want to finish the book, they don't have to finish it.

We do try to keep track of the books they read. This is pretty challenging because they end up reading so many. For right now, they write down the book title and author on a strip of paper and we tape it up on the wall like a book spine. When this gets to be too much maybe we'll just start a reading journal.

For D, I am using the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jesse Wise. He is about half way through the book, but his reading level is way beyond where we are in the book. He is just about a fluent reader, maybe in a couple of months things will tip. Most words he never sounds out anymore and he can read multi-syllabic words and people's names.

For now, we are reading a handful of pages a day for fun, and doing some of the activities in the book. There was one where I read a sentence which had one word missing. That word I wrote on an index card and D had to read it and then tape the word to what it described. He really liked this game.

Year End Goal:
D will finish the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading


All three children attend Religious Education classes at our church and attend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd classes each week. Last year I served as a catechist in level 1 CGS and as an assistant in the grade 2 RE class and I just felt that the kids needed a bit more.

This year I've added these texts from Seton. D is using the 1st grade book, S the 3rd grade book and T the 4th grade book. All of the books speak to the same topics, but expand upon those topics to varying degrees depending upon the child's grade level.

These books were designed for a 4-5 day a week lesson sequence for a full school year. (32 weeks? Can't remember off hand.) Since, these books were designed mainly for discussion and I don't have time to discuss everything with each of them we use them in a slightly different way. I ask T to read a lesson and answer the fill-in the blank questions at the end of the passage. Then I ask him to go back and underline, color-in, highlight or what-have-you, two favorite parts of the passage. I hope that this helps him revisit two points he felt resonated with him. Usually we do a couple of lessons a day, and I sit and talk with him about at least one after I actually read it. (This is the fourth grade text.)

I require the same from S and sometimes there is a part of the passage she wants to illustrate and color. (This is the 3rd grade text.)

For D, we read the passage together, (I read one line, he reads one line) and then we discuss the questions at the end of the passage. (This is the 1st grade text.)

Year End Goal:
T S and D will finish their Religion lesson books.


This year, only T is starting with logic. This is a second, logic-stage of development subject for the 5th-8th grades. We are using Building Thinking Skills: Level 2.

The second book explores math logic, and then bridges these topics into language logic. I love that there are vocabulary analogies in the final pages of this book. THIS was one of the topics that just had me confounded on the SAT. I am so glad that T is being introduced to these now. 

Originally, I had purchased the first book, but then D stole that book and wanted to do all of the worksheets himself (which he was able to do successfully.) I had T take a look at the last pages of that level 1 book and we figured out that he could move on to the next level.

T loves, loves, loves this subject and I think it comes easily for him.

Year End Goal:
T will finish level 2 logic book.

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Whew, so that is what we will be using this year! I am hoping that an approach different than Montessori will help us get more writing and reading practice and will continue to heavily encourage independent learning.

Looking ahead I know that there are very few years between T and high school math classes. I haven't decided what to do about this yet, but am weighing options outside of our homeschool. It is my intention to, over the next couple of years, help him develop the discipline and responsibility necessary to be successful taking a class somewhere else. Wish us luck!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Math History & Science Curriculum 2016-17

I've mentioned in past posts that we are turning to the Classical side of things a bit more this year. But we are also keeping the corners of our curriculum Montessori. Since we are beginning to use more texts I thought I'd share a few of our choices, how we've adapted them a bit, and how this is working out for us.

For PR purposes we are calling T fourth grade, S  third grade, and D kinder. You'll see though, their actual book work is often times a different grade level.

Math, Geometry, and Math Word Problems:

We are sticking with the primary and elementary Montessori math and geometry sequences. With a firm base of knowledge in Montessori math I thought that I'd continue this path through upper elementary for everyone.

So far this year, our pace is very slow. I am a little reluctant to do as much math as perhaps we should because lessons always involve a lot of large cumbersome materials. The two things that push us along are that T usually picks math because he loves this subject and that S is behind on math and I'd prefer not letting her slip further.

We use the Keys of the Universe and the Keys of the World albums.

At this point, D still needs to complete memorization of facts and then will move into elementary math. S needs to revisit the elementary math she has done so far before moving forward, so we are really starting from the beginning of the sequence. And T just needs to top off in a bunch of different areas to finish up the entire elementary math album.
For math word problems we've been using Daily Word Problems in Math.

Each child does a few problems in their book in a single sitting and they can check their answers in the back of the book. For D, the math in his 1st grade book is super easy but at times he still needs a bit of help with the reading. S is in the 3rd grade book and this level seems about right for her.

T has finished 3rd grade book and is transitioning to Challenge Math by Zaccaro, since he has had more experience with money, time, and percentages and fractions since we last looked at this text.

Year end Goal:
T will finish the year 6 elementary math sequence and be ready for pre-algebra topics.
S will make progress through the year 1 elementary math sequence and start year 2 topics.
D will complete memorization of facts and primary Montessori math.
T S and D will see all first geometry presentations and T will finish with area and volume formulas.
S and D will finish their Daily Math word Problem books.


We are using the Story of the World curriculum by Susan Wise Bauer. In January of this year we started with the first volume: Ancients. This curriculum follows the four year cycle of the classical trivium but I chose to have all my children start in the same time period regardless of age.

We use the Activity Guide questions and discussion topics and the Student Pages to study the geography for each chapter. Although the Activity Guide includes a copy of the Student Pages, I purchased them separately and copied them for each kid. Next time I'll just save time and order three copies from Peace Hill Press.

After reading the chapter we use the Activity Guide questions to talk about what we just read. Each child writes down their own narration summary on a piece of blank paper and then they illustrate what they wrote. D dictates to me his narration and I write this down. We color the Student Page geography maps and the coloring pages that go with each chapter. And occasionally we do the crafts. My kids like crafts, but I like three of the same thing, like African masks, only so much.

I follow the Activity Guide suggested reading list and we get these books from the library.  They read these books during their assigned reading time each day and I read some of the volumes to D if he can't read them himself.

We have the Kingfisher and Useborne encyclopedias and we occasionally use these for extra reading and outlining. I like that these encyclopedias are chronological and have beautiful illustrations but they don't always provide a lot of information. I suppose there is only so much you can cram into a two page spread about a whole civilization that lasted 500 years.

We use the memory cards as memory cards and the kids spend about 5 minutes a day reading the cards to their stuffed animals until they can recite them from memory.

I plan to finish the first volume around Christmas time and then begin working through the second volume: Medieval Times.

Year end Goal:
T will be following along with the regular chapters but will also add encyclopedia reading, written outlines and timeline work.
S will be following along with the regular chapters but will also begin to add encyclopedia reading and written notes.
D will follow along with the regular chapters and continue to complete the student pages and do memory work.


This year I am following the 4 year history cycle Susan Wise Bauer speaks about in her book The Well-Trained Mind. Since we are starting with the Ancients, the first half of the year we will be exploring plant biology and human anatomy.

I cobbled together our exploration sequence by culling together activities from resources like Jan Cleave's books, (biology and plants) and internet blog posts.

For plants I loosely used the Keys of the Universe Botany scope and sequence and I plan to cover topics like:  (topics can be found in Jan Van Cleave's books)
  • Parts of a flower
  • Seeds -function and dispersal and germination
  • Plant cells and osmosis
  • Stems - turgor pressure and water flow
  • Leaves and sunlight, stomata, water loss, and gas transfer
  • Roots and mosses and lichens
For Human Anatomy, I divided up our study among the different systems of the body and found fun activities on the internet. Some of our activities include:
  • Mapping the major bones in the body, naming different types of joints and learning about the composition of bones
  • Mapping major arteries and veins in the body and learning what blood is made of
  • Exploring how the heart and lungs work together to deliver oxigenated blood to the body and how the lungs inflate
  • Mapping the different digestive organs and identifying their function, and learning how stuff moves through the gut and what our teeth do
  • Exploring the functions of our liver and kidneys
  • Learning how our nervous system helps us make sense of the world and how our brain is at the center of everything
  • Mapping the major muscle groups of the body and exploring the three types of muscle tissue
  • and exploring the lymphatic system, reproductive system, integumentary system, and our immune system
*                                         *                                         *

And that is about half of what I have planned for this year. Stay tuned for the next post about how we plan to do our Language, Latin and Logic studies