Friday, August 31, 2012 1 comments

Homeschooling: Positive Reinforcement

I've been a teacher in a traditional classroom, and now I teach my own children at home. The one thing that is always a "downer" for me is classroom discipline. I love to decorate the room, make the lesson plans, and teach. I despise having to halt everything to discipline.

I thought and thought on a way to make discipline as simple and easy as possible, both for me and the kids this year.

When I first came upon the idea of a classroom store, and tying it to behavior, I resisted. After all, I don't want to bribe my kids to behave.

However, I was able to read one teacher's rationale, and it made a lot of sense. In a nutshell, she says that you can use this as a preparation for adulthood. If an adult chooses to break rules, they either get fined or sent to prison. While I'm not going to make a jail in my classroom, I can certainly employ the same idea as fines. What adult do you know that doesn't slow down a little after getting a speeding ticket? It works!

With that in mind, I started reading up on how other teachers set up their classroom stores. Some of them had long lists of ways students could earn classroom money. I knew that wasn't going to work for me because I don't have the time or energy to devote to that. This is supposed to save me time and energy. So I came up with my own system, gleaning what I liked from several different people.

My system is based on good behavior. Some teachers gave classroom money for good grades (especially perfect papers or A's), but at least one of my children has perfectionist tendencies already. I didn't want to exacerbate the problem by offering an incentive for only perfect papers. I was a "hundreds-only" student growing up (i.e. only perfect papers were acceptable in my book), and I know how that can cripple a student's learning.

So my children each get ten (fake) dimes a day. If they disobey a classroom rule, I take a coin. Whenever they have all ten coins remaining at the end of the day, I exchange it for a (fake) $1 bill. It's as simple as that, and it has worked marvelously these past two weeks.

The fun part was setting up the prize store. I pulled out all the little kid gifts I had sitting around that I had picked up for great prices. Then I grouped things by their perceived value to the kids. I wanted them to have to work for the really nice prizes, so my highest price point was $9. They will be able to "buy" one of these every two weeks if they're relatively well-behaved and save their money. (Bonus: This teaches saving money and delayed gratification.)

These are the $2 prizes. These prices are obviously not the same prices you would see at the regular store, but I wanted them to reflect the effort put forth. Most of these came in packs of at least four for a dollar.

These are the $4 prizes. I regularly scour Michaels clearance bins for kid-friendly things like these robot paint pads. (I'm pretty sure this was around $0.20, but the perceived value is much higher.)

These $7 prizes might not look like much to other people, but I know what my kids like. They are crazy about notebooks and "fancy" pens. I have since added two more battery-operated fans that I picked up at Hobby Lobby's end-of-season clearance for $0.20 each. They're much fancier than this blue handheld fan.

I had quite a few $9 prizes, so I separated them by child. These are the ones I knew my daughter would be interested in - knitting needle sets and American Girl books. The needles came from Tuesday Morning (something like $3 for a pack of 3 sets). The books all came from thrift stores, mostly $0.33-0.50 each. I recently added a Fisher Price dollhouse family camping tent that we found at a thrift store for $1.

These are the $9 items I knew my son would like. Believe it or not, a lot of these are Dollar Tree finds. I have an awesome Dollar Tree near me, and I regularly browse their toy aisles for buy-outs of name brands. The off-brand "lego"-type sets came from Hobby Lobby's Christmas clearance. The police bear uniform came from a thrift store, still with the $14.99 tags on it. (It's the same brand of clothing we saw at the store where we let them make their own stuffed animals this past vacation.)

You may notice that I didn't go all out and make it look identical to a real store. I simply grouped several chairs together and put a different price point on a different chair. I have them all lined up in price order so they can easily decide what they can afford.

Well, that's about it for my classroom store. I'm hoping to share pictures of my classroom soon!
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 1 comments

More $1 Homeschool Supplies

School has been keeping me extra-busy these last two weeks. The first few weeks are always like that, until we get into our "groove" for the year and I find the best and easiest ways of running things.

I do have several things to share with you, so hopefully I'll get a few minutes over the next few days to write them up.

For today, I have a few more $1 products that I found recently that make my homeschool life easier.

First of all, here is the last set of posters I referred to in my last post about Dollar Tree products that I love. Aren't these cute? My plan is to rotate the posters each month. Both of my kids loved the ones we started with.

Here are four activity card sets. You cut them apart and have your kids match them up. There were other sets, but these are the ones we will personally use: compound words, antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms. You have to cut them apart yourself, but $1/pack is a great price for these!

I got a pack of 24 (or 25?) of these skeletal system handouts because my son had to learn most of these bones in health class this year. I was able to use as many of these as I wanted without having to freehand it myself (in which case, he might not have recognized any of the bones). I would highly recommend using one of these sheets each day to help them memorize the bones easily.

Target had a whole bunch of neat things in their $1 Spot again this year.

Since we're studying dinosaurs, I had to pick up the dinosaur cards. Although we don't agree with all of the "science" facts about how long ago these dinosaurs might have roamed the earth, there's still a lot of helpful information, as well as fun pictures for dinosaur-lovers (like my son).

I was pretty thrilled to find the "Telling Time" cards, too, since it presents time on a variety of clock styles. We're going to get good use out of these!

Did you find any really good deals on homeschool supplies at the regular stores this year? I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, August 16, 2012 1 comments

Dollar Tree School Products That I Love

I probably should have written this post a month ago when Dollar Tree started stocking their teacher section for the schoolyear, but I didn't have my pictures lined up at that point. If your stores are anything like mine, you might not be able to find these anymore this year, but hopefully they'll still have something that catches your eye.

I make it a point to stalk Dollar Tree around mid-July because that's when the teacher supplies start showing up at mine. This year I scored a bunch of really nice, helpful supplies. Take a look ...

They had some new bulletin board sets this year. This "Parts of Speech" set will come in handy as we introduce new parts of speech. It will be useful for several years, too, since Abeka doesn't introduce all of these at once.

Punctuation Paradise is another good one. I'm pretty sure we cover this in both 2nd and 4th grades this year, so I'll get lots of use out of this one.

I was especially happy with The Writing Process set, since we're studying that with my son this year (4th grade). He's really "into" writing, but I haven't put much structure into his creative writing to this point because I don't want to kill the creativity. We'll be applying this mostly to the reports he'll be writing this year.

I found this banner a few years ago, but I was really happy that I picked it up because we are memorizing the books of the Old Testament this year. I love how the books of the Bible are presented on a bookshelf, just like regular books.

I bought this banner last year, I think. My kids tend to perfectionism, so this is a good reminder to have on hand. They tend to think completely the opposite.

There were some new banners this year, but my favorite were the goal-setting banners. This one is a thermometer-style. I don't have definite plans for it at the moment, but we often work toward a goal, so I'm keeping it handy.

Here is a space-themed goal-setting banner. My son loves space and we're studying about Creation this year, so I bought this one, too. This would be great to mark off days when they were well-behaved, wrote their names on all papers, or whatever other habit you're wanting to reinforce at the moment. In 12 days, you can reach your goal. That's definitely manageable for younger children.

One note about these goal-setting banners: They don't have to be single-use. Choose a paper cut-out (coordinating image or not) and move it along the banner as they progress. If you attach it with removable adhesive (like "sticky tack"), you can use it again.

Then there are nice, big posters. I was happy to find this Pledge of Allegiance poster last year, since we do that in our homeschool. (I realize not everyone does.) I'm pretty sure I saw one as a banner this year, but it sold pretty fast around here.

These large posters now come 2/pack, and I loved this one. It has synonyms ...

... and antonyms. These are not printed back-to-back. There are two separate posters. This comes in handy when you're trying to highlight the difference between synonyms and antonyms.

Here's another two-pack: punctuation marks (I like the examples on this, so I'll probably use it in addition to the bulletin board set.) ...

... and capitalization rules. We go over both of these in both 2nd and 4th grades this year, so I was thrilled to find this bright, eye-catching posters to illustrate an otherwise-boring subject. [I was an English major in college, but I know how most people view the subject.]

This year they also had 3-packs of smaller posters. These are still bigger than 8.5x11", and they had a lot of cute ones. This set is probably my favorite. I got it just for the ostrich poster (far right), and I joked with my children that I was going to hang it up next to the dining room table. Like Thumper's mother said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." It's becoming a lost art, but I want my kids to learn it.

This set doesn't have cute pictures, but it's colorful and character-building.

This set adds some fun graphic elements to make them jazzier. Again, these are character traits that most children need to work on, and mine are no exception.

I also got another set, but I don't have pictures of it yet. It has a group of chicks going one way with one lone duckling going the opposite direction and says something like, "Don't just follow the group. Follow your conscience." What great advice! I got the whole set just for that one poster.

I hope you're inspired to check out your local Dollar Tree. You may want to check at Target, too. I saw two different 3'x5' (or so) bulletin board sets for $2.50. They were in with their back-to-school supplies, which they hide at the back of the store in my Target. The sets wouldn't work with any of our themes this year, but it's a great bargain if it works for you. I think one was a sky set with an airplane carrying a blank banner and I think the other was an ocean set.

Let me know if you find other great deals!
Friday, August 10, 2012 4 comments

My 2012 Homeschool Planner

Last year I printed a planner and bound it with my Bind-It-All. You can see the details here. I really liked it, but (inevitably) there were a few things I would have changed, if I could have, as the year went on. Since it was bound, though, I couldn't.

So this year I decided to switch to a loose-leaf binder instead. I was going to decorate one myself, but then I saw this lovely decorative binder at Staples while I was picking up some bargain school supplies, and I fell in love.

See? It's even decorative inside, which was the main selling point for me. The view binders you can buy to decorate yourself don't have that option, and I'm going to be seeing the inside of this planner a lot.

Here's the back cover. If you'd like one for yourself, it has all the manufacturer details here. Just zoom in and check it out.

These were labeled as "light use" binders. I would normally be a little wary of light use binders, but I'm the only one that's going to be handling this one, so it shouldn't be a problem. I'm very careful with my things. If it falls apart, I'll be sure to let you know!

Now let's look at the pages inside ...

This first one is a schoolyear planner that saved me a lot of time making one for myself. I like how professional it looks, too. You can download your own copy here at the Five J's blog.

Next comes my actual planning pages, which I did entirely on the computer. It took me several hours upfront, but it's going to save me a lot more hours during the schoolyear. These are just simple tables in a word processing document. I use OpenOffice because it's free and very professionally done.

I  used one of my favorite Creating Keepsakes fonts, CK Girl. I'm going to be seeing a lot of this planner this year, so I wanted it to be fun to look at.

I know some people say you shouldn't, but I like to plan out an entire nine weeks' worth of lessons so I know where I'm going. After teaching in a traditional classroom for four years and homeschooling an additional four years, I'm more comfortable with this approach because I'm more familiar with how fast my children work and how much we can reasonably accomplish in one day. I'm also one of those people that likes to know where we're headed so the little details make more sense. This approach doesn't work for everyone, so do what works for you.

One thing I did change this year is to label the days by numbers (denoting which day of school we're on), instead of just dates (which I will fill in by hand as we do them). This has several advantages. First of all, if you're required to count days in your state (we're not), you will know how many more days you have to go. Secondly, it's easier for me to keep track of where we are in each subject when I don't have to keep track of several different lesson numbers. We'll be on the same lesson number in each class. Thirdly, if you miss a day, you can just pick up where you left off the next day, without having to rewrite your plans and shuffle things around.

Lastly, I decided to try a different form for my grade book pages this year. I discovered last year that I had not included enough spaces for all the grades I needed to record. That was a real challenge since the book was already bound at that point.

I discovered these free grade book sheets at New Bee Homeschooler, and they were exactly what I wanted. Keeping a grade book for two children is a lot different than keeping a grade book for 15-20 children, especially when those two children are in two different grades. I love how this page keeps my favorite aspects of the regular grade book and adjusts it to a homeschool approach of fewer children.

I also love the grading scale printed right on each grade book page. My local public school system does the super-easy system of

  • 90-100 - A
  • 80-89 - B
  • 70-79 - C
  • 60-69 - D
  • 50-59 - F
I grew up with the system printed on her grade book pages, and I like it better for our purposes. If you don't happen to like it, she provides the form where you can fill in your own grading scale. Most homeschoolers recognize that we're not all cookie-cutter copies of each other, and that's okay.

Well, that's it for my planner for now. I'll be back next week with some more homeschool-related posts.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 1 comments

Getting ready for a new homeschool year

Did you miss me last week? I was away at church camp and thought I had posts lined up. Apparently I didn't. Sorry about that! I'll be featuring those later. Right now I'm working on my homeschool room, getting ready for school to start next week.

Since we're heading back into the homeschool year, and since my children are getting older (and thus the material is more involved), I can make no promises about the frequency or topics of my posts over the next few weeks.

I know some of you homeschool, some of you knit, and some of you quilt. Some of you just like to keep tabs on what I'm doing (mostly my personal friends). The next few weeks probably won't involve any creative "crafty" projects, but I may post about my homeschool room, some great homeschool finds for this year, and such. If you're not "into" that, hang in there. There are more creative projects and ideas coming.

As a teacher (albeit a homeschooling one), August and September get me in the mood for more organization, like January does for most people. I'm working on some aspects of that which I'll share in a little while, but I thought I'd leave you with a link to a helpful blog planner from Mama Jenn. You need to subscribe in order to access it, but it's a great tool! She based it on two planners, only one of which I can get to load. It's a good one, though, and you'll probably want to check it out, too. It's courtesy of Amy Bayliss from Cajun Joie de Vivre.