Hanging Planets

One of my favorite activities for studying planets is to make a child-sized planetarium.  The steps are simple and by doing hands-on assembly, children learn so much about our solar system.

*1)  Obtain a washer or dryer box from a local appliance store.  Paint all over the inside with black tempera paint.  Paint the outside any colors you would like–or don't paint it.

*2)  Using a used plastic playground ball, cut a hole just large enough to insert a flashlight.  Cut a hole in the top of the box so that the ball will rest in the space and not fall through.  This becomes the sun.

*3)  Using styrofoam balls of varying sizes, paint or cover them with clay or playdough to represent each of the 9 planets.  Attach a fish line string to each ball.

*4)  On the outside top of the box, draw concentric ovals to represent the orbits of the planets.  Punch 9 holes with a pen or small poking object, one on each of the orbit lines and spacing them so that the planets hang at various places within the box.  From the inside, hang the planets by pushing the fishline string through the correct orbit hole, knot the string and/or tape it on the outside so they hold tight.

*5)  Using glow-in-the-dark star stickers or paint, have children either form constellations or just randomly put stars on the inside of the box.

*6)  Cut a small rectangular peep hole in one side of the box.

*7)  When assembled, turn on the flashlight to make the sun glow and make the planets visible when someone peeps through the hole.

Enjoy!  By the way, this is a GREAT science fair project!

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Building Bridges

Building bridges is a fun activity to do with children from preschool to high school.

With preschool children, we do a lot of play with regular wood blocks.  Playing WITH children gives opportunity to model and discuss architectural concepts.  Dad likes to play blocks with our kids, introducing them to concepts of symmetry, a firm foundation, and beam bridges. 

For elementary children, using straws or popsicle craft sticks and glue or string can help them understand about reinforcements and suspension bridges.

For secondary students, the ideas of geometry and trigonometry can be put into real life designing principles, using the Pythagorean principle to help students understand the importance of triangles in strenthening structures.

If you would like to explore more about bridges and building bridges, check out a book from your local library to explain to your students about types of bridges.  You can also look in our catalog in the Reasoning/Logic and Science sections to find the resource "Building Toothpick Bridges."

Experimenting With Needs for Plants

I recently introduced my kindergarten daughter to the scientific method of experiments, including the process of isolating a variable, while teaching the concepts of the essential needs of plants.  However, the process was simple and an activity that many teachers use–the "talk time" was the productive teaching time, as well as observing the results. 

First we soaked pinto bean seeds until the seed coat was split.  We looked inside to see the "baby plant."  Then we planted seeds in bowls and let them grow for a week or two. 

Then we made a list of what plants need:  air, water, sunlight, and soil.  We made a label for each plant, eliminating one of the "ingredients."

*1–This plant got everything it needed.  This was our "control group."

*2–This plant had no air.  It went in a clear ziplock bag, so that we could quickly open the bag to give it water and it sat in a sunny place.  It was in soil.

*3–This plant had no water.  It was planted in soil, placed in a sunny place, ang got water.

*4–This plant had no sunlight.  It was planted in soil, got water and air, but we placed it in a dark closet.

*5–This plant had no soil.  We removed the plant from the original bowl and rinsed off the roots in tap water.  We placed it into a cup of cool water.  The plant got sunlight and air, but no soil.

Because of her level, we did not do any recording.  It was mainly a daily "check and talk."  Adding a simple record sheet for daily recording by writing or drawing could incorporate more formal observation to the process.  In our daily check and talk, we were able to integrate the functions of the parts of plants and talk about why the stems went mushy or the leaves turned yellow. 

After about a week or so, we placed all the plants on a table and made cards to label them.  We took photographs to place in our homeschool yearbook and to keep as a record of what happens to plants if they do not get what they need.  We had a great time with this experiment–and I had all the supplies around the house!

Unit Studies With Picture Cards

When our children were young, we learned of 11" by 11" themed picture cards (Bits of Intelligence cards).  We loved them!  Each set had 10 cards with beautiful photography or art work.  They are called Bits of Intelligence cards–we called them Card School.  My kids were talking about Card School just the other day and my daughter who is a very visual processor sighed, "I loved Card School."  Maybe we'll do a variation of that now even though they are a bit older.

As time went on, I found Photo Fun cards.  There are many unit themes in history, geography, and science.  The price is VERY reasonable and the 8 1/2" x 11" size makes storage simpler.  Each of the sets has 8 photo cards with background information and hands-on activities on the back side.  You can find Photo Fun cards on either one of our websites:  www.wisdomseekersinc.com or www.wstreasurechest.com.

Besides the Photo Fun cards, Hands-On Activity books give many additional experiential learning activities, along with useful blackline masters.  Hands-On Activity books are companion products to the Photo Fun cards.  You can find Hands-On Activity books on our websites also:  www.wisdomseekersinc.com or www.wstreasurechest.com.

I like to create my own unit studies around my student's learning styles and needs for further practice.  These Photo Fun and Hands-On Activity Books gives me the flexibility I like and makes planning easy!

History Timelines

History Timelines are a great way to teach history to students who have difficulty with sequencing and understanding the relationship of time passing and when things happened in history.  Integrating clip art pictures and unit studies that involve hands-on projects can make the time lines come alive. 

Using historical fiction literature helps to make everyday life in history more "real" for students who have difficulty understanding that people who lived long ago were "real."  Fiction also presents history in story form, which some students relate to more than textbook style. 

While hands-on project-based units or historical fiction literature-based approach is just right for some students, other are more secure and learn facts and overall concepts better from a straight-forward textbook, learning how to use headings and sub-headings to locate information, answering end-of-sections questions, learning note-taking skills, writing papers and taking tests.

Whatever approach you decide to use for history, try to balance memorization of facts/details with time sequence and looking at the "big picture" or concepts.  God's providence, cause/effect, man's intentions, drawing conclusions, and making predictions are all factors and skills to elicit when teaching history.

If you need materials for teaching history using timelines, check our homeschool website, www.wisdomseekersinc.com.  We carry several types of timeline figures, including the popular Homeschool in the Woods figures.

Children Around the World

Children Around the World can be a fun unit for early childhood or primary grades.  Some activities to do for this unit are:

* Color or draw children from each country in their traditional costumes

* Make, draw, or color the flag from each country studied

* Play games that are popular in each country

* Cook food that comes from each country

* Write a sentence or paragraph about each country

* Make a Children Around the World display or bulletin board using a world map, yarn, and either photos or the paper dolls listed above

* Read books about each country

* Locate someone who has lived or visited a country to present information and souvenir memorabilia

* Write to the country's consulate or a travel agency to request travel information and brochures of a country

* Visit the country, if possible

For more ideas the following resources are listed on our homeschool website:  www.wisdomseekersinc.com or www.wstreasurechest.com.

"International Children"

"International Games and Cookbook"

"Land, People, Culture Books" by Crabtree–3 books for each country are available focusing on the geography, ethnicity, and cultural habits of each country listed.

Symbols of America

My children and I just finished a unit study on Symbols of America.  We had a great time making these project items as we read about each symbol:

* Liberty Bell

* Statue of Liberty crown and torch

* Penny rubbings for Lincoln Memorial

* Uncle Sam Hats

We are now studying American patriotic songs.

For more information on projects for America units, look in the History/Geography section of our catalog.  Three resources I have found helpful are Photo Fun Cards, Activity Books, and Hooray! for the U.S.A.  These books have MANY ideas for projects!

Games make learning joyful and productive

For many years, I have been convinced of the benefits of game-playing with my students.  Moving games are novel and require whole-body participation.  Board games help students forget they are engaged in drill practice.  Card games build dexterity and memory skills.

Lately our 3 year old son has been playing "Concentration" and "UNO."  His ability to remember the location of the matches with 30-40 cards on the table is astounding. 

I have often encouraged my students from K-12 to use "Concentration" as a game whenever memorizing 2 companion pieces of information is required.  One student memorized the Periodic Table symbols and element names–it took him a week or less.  Other applications of "Concentration" are:  vocabulary to definitions, math facts, sight words (2 cards for each word), literary characters with quotations, states and capitals, and the list is endless.

While "UNO" may seem fairly mindless, students who have difficulty with thinking flexibly or strategically can benefit from this "just for fun" game.  Teaching color and number recognition for preschool children is an obvious benefit, but planning ahead and utilizing the special cards and Wild cards to gain advantage are strategies that can be explicitly taught to students who have executive function weaknesses.

Wisdom Seekers was started to provide the games I have developed over the years to teachers who either don't have time to make games or lack the creativity to design their own.  These games are the same games I have used with every one of my students in academic therapy for reading and arithmetic.

I do hope you'll utilize games at whatever level or in whatever setting you teach.  Students relax and enjoy skills that are otherwise tedious and difficult!

Teacher modeling

I have found over the years that Teacher Modeling is one of the most effective and powerful teaching techniques in any subject area for any student, especially skill areas such as decoding, reading comprehension, math calculation processes, math problem solving, note-taking, and writing.

I understand the concern and debate regarding learned helplessness, but my own experience has been that when teacher modeling is removed or a concrete model is moved too quickly to an abstract concept without intermediate steps, the student shows characteristics of learned helplessness.

For students who are given adequate teacher modeling, most students assertively state when they are ready to try a skill on their own.  I have found that many students want independence before they are actually ready, but eagerness for independence is a goal many parents and teachers hope they will develop in their students with special needs.

Learning to trust each other and being honest with each other as teacher and learner is critical in knowing how and when to wean from teacher modeling.  Homeschoolers are in the best situation for being able to make individual adaptations to instruction for any student.

An effective progression of instruction follows the following steps:

1) Explanation or description of the skill, process, or reasoning.

2) Teacher Modeling of the skill.

3) Guided Coaching while the Teacher and Student work together practicing the skill.

4) Student performing independently, yet Teacher Monitored with Coaching and Correction.

5) Student practices independently with Checking within 24 hours.

 Student demonstrates mastery of skill and no longer requires instruction or guidance.

Unit themes for intermediate students

Here are some unit themes for students in grades 4-8.  While these themes may be appropriate for some, students the topics may not be developmentally appropriate for others.  Choose themes carefully.  Most of the themes could best be used in a language arts course, yet cross-curricular ideas could easily be integrated.  If you like any of these topics, let us know and we may be able to suggest materials that would have ideas, or we may be able to design a unit for you.

* Wild West

* Fungi

* Acids and Bases

* Holocaust

* Light and Sound

* The Gold Rush

* Responsibility

* Urban and Rural America

* Continents

* Countries of the World

* Designing a Travel Plan

* Wolves

* Birds of Prey

* Prayers in the Bible

* Grains

* Stock Market

* Renaissance

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