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Tag Archives: first-grade

Learning O’Clock

Sister-Bug always wants to know what time it is because she lives from one meal to the next. When I look a the clock and tell her it isn't snack time, she gets really upset with me. Meanwhile, Brother-Bug is learning how to read an analog clock and get his chores done before he gets his computer time.

To support both these kids learning needs, I opened up a simple clock I got at the thrift store. I get everything at the thrift store.

I started with painting the minute hand blue. Just a dab of acrylic paint. I didn't even use a brush – I smoothed it on with my finger. It's not hard to tell long from short, but I wanted to make it even more clear.

I used a blue marker (now the blue minute hand becomes even more relevant) to mark off the minutes and their corresponding numbers. Brother-Bug helped me with this, counting by fives around the clock face. This would be totally sufficient for the 7-year old, but I wanted something the preschooler could use as well.

Our days are pretty routine, so I marked her major events (meals) in pictures around the clock. We drew a sun if it happened during the day and a moon if it was an evening/night event. Sister-Bug helped me choose colors and what to draw, so she is familiar with each simple picture.

We did have to have a conversation that we drew grapes for snack time, but that didn't mean we would always have grapes for snack.

I hung it low where it is easy for both of them to check the time. And it works! I am no longer the authority on whether or not we eat. The clock says it's not snack time, so therefore it's not snack time. Sister-Bug checks the clock and goes off for her quiet time without (as much) issue. Brother-Bug is getting better and better with the analog clocks.




Writing & Wiping

I look at homeschool daily task charts and envision skiing something like that for our days…but I'm not that organized. Every day around here is a little different and that's not going to change. So I started thinking about alternatives and the dry-erase idea kept coming up.

Dry erase boards are super helpful for…pretty much everyone. But they aren't always pretty, and after a while the white plastic coating just looks yucky even if you are diligent about wiping them down with alcohol frequently. They don't inspire.

For less than five bucks and ten minutes I made us a daily wipe-off board that is attractive. I can leave a note for Papa-Bug, we can make our list of school tasks for each day, and write down our goals and visions that we are working towards. We can tailor it each day to the nature of that day.


I made it from a 10×14 frame from the thrift store and a couple pieces of scrapbook paper. The glass is wipeable and the whole thing can be dismantled, glass washed, paper changed up, and then put back together.

After we had used that for a couple of days I had an inspiration, so I grabbed another frame.

Brother-Bug has been working really hard on handwriting. Often we need to just work on the movement of a letter, repeating it over and over. Often he needs me to show him the letter as a reminder. We can go through a lot of paper.


A white piece of paper, ruler, and colored markers and that up-cycled frame is our new wipeable hand writing board! The background here actually has three different line sizes to choose from (can you see them all?). As his hand writing refines I can make other lined backgrounds.

With this board we can do all the practice we need to do, especially working on the large movements – writing very big letters – before we try to get those movements small. We can repeat “m” over and over, then wipe it off and move of to “2”. He also likes to pull it out for independent writing practice; I love anything that inspires my kids to do their own learning.


What size frame would you use? Would you do something specific like a writing board, or something more general? I'm thinking of making a kitchen board laid out for our weekly menu. How else could you customize a wipe-board?




All-In-One Project

A daily homeschooling challenge is teaching many levels – especially when two of those levels are preschool or earlier. Sister-Bug loves school time and has her projects and special school crayons, but it is often difficult to balance the baby, engage the preschooler, and give Brother-Bug the attention he deserves for his first-grade work.

I love finding a fun project that engages both older kids and covers multiple subjects. In my head it checks off; win! win! win! win! Our recent project in measurement was justo elf those kinds of projects.

I printed out two simple body outlines (here). Each kid got a measuring tape, clipboard with their “body” and markers or crayons.

Sister-Bug got measured first – they each chose four different measurements on their body that they were curious about. Sister-Bug had Brother-Bug measure her arm, head, leg, and foot.


We learned about holding and accurately using a tape measure and how to write “1/2”. they drew on their outline where they had measured and we noted the inches on the side of the paper. Brother-Bug did all the writing on both sheets, so we covered hand writing (Brother-Bug), math concepts (both), colors & body parts (Sister-Bug), and of course working together.


Each kid chose to measure different body parts. I thought about having them measure the same parts, but didn't want to force the issue. Choosing what to measure gave them choice and power in their project and so they had more fun. We have plenty of time to do comparisons in our math explorations. When we were done with each sheet we had a simple paper that was fairly easy to read and understand. And we had a lot of fun just messing around with different ways to use the measuring tape.


Once Sister-Bug was done playing with measuring tapes, I turned her sheet over to herr sheet with her crayons and asked her to write down her discoveries. She was busy for long enough for Brother-Bug and me to finish his measurements, at which point Sister-Bug enerstly explained all her scribbles to me.

Baby-Bug participated by chewing on his favorite pink washcloth.



Ribbon Math

We try to find a math game every day. Sometimes it happens when we are cooking – yesterday we needed to double a recipe. Today we came up with a very simple (and free!) manipulative game that Brother-Bug really enjoyed.

I pulled out my ribbon box and cut 9-10 different lengths of ribbon. I made sure that two of the ribbons were the same length. I handed the pile of ribbons to Brother-Bug and asked him to put them in order, longest to shortest.


Once he had lined them all up, and we figured out how to show that two ribbons were the same length (stack them up), he had a treasure hunt to find something in the house the same length or height as each ribbon.

He had a great time. He raced around the house with a fist full of ribbons, holding different ribbons up to different items. While playing this game he learned about ordering, estimating, and classifying, building on these skills and growing them in his brain. I'm saving the ribbons for another game soon – are any of the ribbons the same length as his or Sister-Bug's arms/legs/other parts?

I find math easiest to teach when it is this simple – ribbons and exploration. And it's fun… Way more fun than endless math worksheets.


Our Election Day

If you've been reading for the last couple of months, you know that Elections matter in our house. We get really interested in them. Papa-Bug is a former Political Science major and at some point his interest and enthusiasm for political things rubbed off on me. Now we are rubbing that passion into our kids.

Brother-Bug looking over a ballot during breakfast.

Election day dawns. We live in a Vote By Mail state, but our family fills out our ballots on Election Day. We drive to the County Election Office and the kids put the ballots in the ballot box.

Dropping our ballots - Sister-Bug is still in her Halloween costume...


At 9 days old, this was Baby-Bug's first trip into the outside world. He wore an Obama button on his tiny hat and slept through the whole thing.

After we vote we go out for brunch. Papa-Bug wears a stars-and-stripes tie. We listen to John Philip Sousa. We talk with the kids about how lucky we are to live in a time and place where voting is a right and privilege. We talk about how this was not always the case for everyone.

In our homeschooling, Election Day has had lots of different projects. We've learned vocabulary, geography, and lots of math. Brother-Bug adores the Electoral Map apps on the iPad and will sit up if he can't sleep, making predictions, reading op-ed pieces, and contemplating past electoral maps. He figured out point spread himself and talked rationally about if Hurricane Sandy would effect the election and did we think it might give Obama “a little bump”. Truly. The child's brain seems to be built for this.

So we made him an election. I solicited participants from my Facebook friends. Each “voter” was to send in a ballot (self-written) voting for their favorite of three candies – Halloween bringing candy to the forefront of our consciousness recently. Ballots were mailed in. We collected them in a ballot box we made. Yesterday, while Papa-Bug and I waited tensely for polls to close, we opened our candy ballots and counted them.

Counting ballots and tallying votes.

We counted each stack and made a simple bar graph to chart our progress.We gave Brother-Bug colored tiles in three colors and he made a stack for each kind of candy. We were voting between Skittles, Candy Corn, and M&Ms, each voter casting one ballot for their favorite.

Making the bar graph.


It was a tight race. We almost had to recount, but in the end, M&Ms pulled out a narrow one vote victory.

It was a really fun project (and nicely diverting for tense parents). I think that it got the idea of voting and how that works in an effective way. A few ballots are still in the mail, so the lesson will go on as we talk about what happens if you don't vote on time!

But that was a prelude to Election Night. We ordered pizza and got root beer (a rare treat for our kids). We watched PBS, the live maps on Politico, Facebook, and Twitter. Brother-Bug had his own US map to color as states were called for each candidate. At first, as the certain and easy-to-count states were called and the middle of his map turned red, my little Democrat's ire began to rise. But we showed him the swing states and gave him a list of those to track which made him feel better. He celebrated hugely with each new blue state and enthusiastically swigged his root beer.

Oklahoma goes red. Not surprising, but still a little disappointing to Brother-Bug.

Sister-Bug and I dozed off earlier than Papa- & Brother-Bug. I raised my lids for Obama's acceptance speech, but Brother-Bug was awake for the whole thing. He used his blue marker to write VOTE up and down his arm. When President Obama thanked the volunteers and anyone else who helped in the campaign, Brother-Bug glowed with pride because of the $9 he donated.


I am deeply glad for many reasons this morning; there are more women in Congress than ever before; we have a President I believe will do the best job possible; local elections went well for my wishes. And most importantly Marriage Equality passed in three states and Minnesota defeated a definition of marriage measure,

And I am so glad that my little guy had such an empowering experience. Our system of democracy may have deep fissures and flaws, but it is by participation that we can make a difference. And people who feel good, who feel empowered, are more likely to raise their voice, or fill out a ballot, and make the changes happen. I'm deeply happy that Brother-Bug is joining the ranks of empowered citizens.


Political Awareness & Jellybeans

Watching Obama, listening for jelly beans.

Papa-Bug majored in political science and has a special Stars & Stripes tie for election day, as well as a John Philip Sousa playlist. Naturally our family isn’t going to let something like a National Election, with all it’s educational possibilities pass through the edges if our awareness just because we are only in first-grade. Nope. Brother-Bug is learning all about The Election.

As I wrote here, he enjoys looking at the electoral maps over at 538. We are helping him understand a few of the simpler issues. His Godmommies live is Washington so a lot of our issue focus is on Marriage Equality, which has the benefit of being not scary (like global warming or gun control) and not very complicated (like taxes or social security).

So we have watched a couple of speeches…but…well, he is only six. They aren’t very compelling speeches for a kid. How to engage a six-year old in the DNC?

Jelly Beans.

We took the concept of the drinking game, but decided that doing shots with our children was probably not the thing.

Papa-Bug made a list of words and phrases President Obama was likely to say during his acceptance speech. Each person got a copy, we got out some jelly beans, and settled down to watch. We didn’t watch it live; we waited until it was on the Internet so we could pause for questions and clarification.

The list included words like:
*My Opponent
*Marriage or Married
*Democrat or Republican
*God Bless America
and so on.

If Brother-Bug heard a word in his list he got one (or more jelly beans). Papa-Bug scored the words – “my opponent” was worth one bean “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” was worth five. We had to help him hear the actual words and occasionally prompt him to bring his attention back to the speech. I popped extra jelly beans in Sister-Bug’s mouth to keep her quiet.

All in all, he watched the whole speech and earned about twenty jelly beans. A lot of the rhetoric went right over his head, but we expected it to. We weren’t wanting him to understand every little thing, but for him to engage with the idea of a major speech. And he did.

The debates are coming up. Brother-Bug was already looking forward to them, but now that he knows there are jelly beans involved, he’s really excited.

Because the debates have a different format and are somewhat less predictable than the DNC speech, we are going to change the game a little bit. We are creating just a few word groups – foreign, economy, or?? – and every time he catches something from one of those groups he will get a jelly bean.

To get ready for the debates we will watch President Bartlett in The West Wing (early season four is all about re-election) and discuss what is going on and why a debate?

And, as we have always done, we will have pizza, beer/root beer, declare November 6th a holiday, and watch the returns come in.

First-Grade Launched!

Origami day! World culture, art, geometry, fun!

If Brother-Bug were in school he would be starting Kindergarten next week. But he’s days from six and we’ve been doing Kindergarten level work for 2 years now. I asked him what he wanted – more Kindergarten or to move on to First Grade. He decided to go forth and First Grade it up.

I love our plan to teach subjects in month long blocks, but we are loosening that structure for the moment, to be more flexible with the beginning of our new baby’s life. Instead, here are some of the up and coming adventures in our first grade plan:

1) Have a baby. Incredibly educational, and a good reason to put out usual plans on hold. Baby-Bug is coming in November so much of the autumn will be spent getting ready for that addition. It’s been really sweet to see Brother-Bug get all excited and to help explain things to Sister-Bug. He remembers a lot from waiting for her and he’s doing a great job of helping us all get ready for a new baby.

2) Daily school time. We are focusing on 10-40 minutes most week days on “school time” when we sit at the table and focus on an educational project of some sort. I believe that this daily practice is the lesson in itself.

3) Hand writing. This is how we start off our school time. I print out a d’Nealian worksheet for each day and he loves it. A longer post (rant) about hand writing will be posted eventually.

Working with patterns. Basic math.

4) Lots of math exploration. I’ve mentioned my Dad’s wife in previous posts – she was a teacher in an amazing school in North Carolina for 30 years. She shared her manipulative-based exploratory math curriculum with me. What a blessing! I’ll write more about that later also.

5) Science Club! I gathered several families from our homeschool group and we are meeting once a week for our K-2nd graders to do an experiment together. Exciting! This will combine learning, socializing, and parental-networking all it two hours a week. It’s a homeschool win!

6) Papa-Bug was a political-science major, and loves an election. We will be using the Presidential Election as a great opportunity to learn a little about how government works. Already Brother-Bug is fascinated by the electoral maps at 583.

7) Ballet, just like last year. And also working on more formal piano lessons.

It looks like a lot, all written out like that, but in reality we spend 1-2 hours a day engaged in “school”. The rest of the time we are playing, reading, questioning, and exploring. And who knows what will change as we move through this third-trimester. Of course lots of other adventures will find us – hikes, explores, canning peaches (today!), reading aloud, story telling, drawing… We would have to lock ourselves in an empty room to prevent learning from happening!


I am keeping Sister-Bug involved also. Each day for school time she gets to select a coloring sheet and color it with  her special “school crayons” while I work with Brother-Bug. Sometimes we mix it up with beads to string, or other 2-year old appropriate activities. School time is her favorite time of day and I’m glad she is already getting used to the daily habit of sitting down together for some focused learning time.

Sea shell coloring. Special crayons. She’s happy.