Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Inspiration for Lapbooks and Unit Studies

Welcome to the third and final post for now in this series on learning at home with lapbooks. I hope that by opening up our home education archives and sharing with you how we learn and assemble useful resources, that you have been inspired to think beyond the textbook, the exercise book or A4 folder! And maybe gained some ideas for topics to study or projects to try. Saminda I can't wait to see how your medieval banquet turns out! You will have so much fun!

I want to show you a few more of the topics we have covered using this method over the years. Science, history and geography subjects are particularly suited to the unit method of learning. Nature is all around us and children are always curious about their environment and the creatures that inhabit the places they live in or visit, be it insects in the garden or marine creatures in the rockpool at the beach. If you start out by studying the natural environment where you reside you will have at hand the resources you need and places to visit - begin in your own backyard, then maybe take a trip to the beach or zoo and then you can move onto studying more complex environments that you may not be able to visit in person such as the rainforest! This is what I refer to as a web of learning.... starting in the centre, then weaving in additional information, making connections between different subjects as you start to expand your knowledge of a particular subject.

We have always lived close to rivers and before we started this unit we went down to the river to observe it in action. The river we visited was an example of a braided river - these are only found in New Zealand, India, Tibet, Alaska and Argentina! The scenery surrounding braided rivers can be majestic. I asked the children to not only look out across the river to the mountains in the distance but to pick up stones and gravel, they enjoyed tossing the pebbles into the river but didn't realize they were learning about the characteristics of a braided river. They were having fun!

On our return I asked my daughter to write out a fact sheet about braided rivers. We used a book about the journey of a river to source the information. I also had brochures picked up from our local council which had lots of information on environmental issues for the rivers in our region. We also made a model of the journey of a river - this was the art and craft component as we made a mountain using paper mache. The river was a blue streamer that wound its way down to the valley and labels were written out for the model and attached in the appropriate places - a good way to encourage a reluctant writer! And learn river terminology and vocabulary for creative writing.

The learning connections start to take place. The children were well aware of the life that lived in the river we were studying - it was salmon country! We often had fresh salmon courtesy of their grandmother. We read from a book about the journey of a salmon and ate it for supper in the evening! Oh how I miss fresh NZ salmon!

If I was studying fish with the children today I would make a lapbook in the shape of a fish or make a fishing game with magnets to make an a fun activity to learn the names of different species or learn vocabulary associated with fish. I would visit the local harbour and fish markets. We would definitely cook with fish. Aha - I have just given myself an idea for a unit for this year! It links into another unit we did a couple of years ago called 'Girt by Sea'. I derived the name from Australia's National Anthem which has the line in it 'our home is girt by sea. ' Rather than making individual lapbooks we made a series of 4 covering the mighty ocean, coasts and habitats, the inter-tidal zone and marine life. I still have all the resources from this unit to refer to if we wish to pursue this topic.

You can make a lapbook about virtually any subject!

This is my daughter's 'Femininity folder'.

She made this folder when we discussed topics such as feminine and modest dress, hygiene, good manners, speech, homemaking and setting a beautiful table. We poured over magazines to find lovely images and outfits she might choose as she grows up to be a young lady. The folder is used to store the pictures. It is this daughter who declares that she prefers to wear dresses and aspires to dress in a feminine manner, so it was a beneficial exercise.

This particular lapbook has a component I often use in lapbooks - pockets or envelopes to hold snippets of information, in this case 'Lovely words to say' such as 'pardon me', 'sorry', 'please may I' and 'thank you' reinforcing what we have always taught our children to say whenever they are speaking! Your pocket may hold state capitals, mini flags, labels for a diagram, anything that is likely to drop out of the folder.

Another useful component I have used in lapbooks are velcro dots. They are perfect for labels that the child has to place in the correct place on a diagram. I also make good use of my 'P touch label' machine when putting together lapbooks and other teaching resources. I love my labeller, it has so many uses. There is not much that isn't labeled in my house!

Homemade board games are another learning resource we have used with great success over the years. Everyone helps to make the game on whatever subject you happen to be studying. We were doing a unit on 'Exploration' I entitled 'To the Ends of the Earth'. It is based on trivial pursuit and each player has to travel to the different continents and answer questions about famous explorers, the terrain and geography.

In order to win the game they need to earn a different treasure from each continent!

I make good use of coloured craft popsicle sticks - something that is always in my craft cupboard. They are fantastic for making markers and game pieces. I also use them to make markers for 'egg box timelines' - you insert them into an upturned egg box to make a timeline that can sit on a table or desktop. I am presently using the same idea to make a phonetic alphabet with the twins. Will take a photo when it is finished to show you in a future post on teaching phonics!

Other 'made at home' games we have made include the 'tiddlywinks' solar system - land your counters on planets and earn points - my son loved this game and soon learned the names of all the planets!

'Rove around Britain' was a geography game where you travel around a map of the British Isles answering questions as you go - we used toy 'British' cars, black cabs and red buses as markers. Perhaps you could make an Australian version and use toy Ford and Holden models!
I could devote a whole post to ideas for board games but this is just to set you off thinking of ideas that might inspire your children to learn their geography facts or dates of historical events.

Learning should be fun, never tedious, especially during the primary school years. I have found that by the age of 12, the children are ready to move on from lapbooks and craft orientated project books, though a daughter who loves to scrapbook could certainly use scrapping as a means of displaying her work in different subject areas. Beautifully illustrated notebooks and journals could be the next step on from lapbooks for an older or artistically inclined child. My daughter even made her high school maths books look more like a journal - she was always photocopying diagrams and appreciated the textbook with coloured illustrations we had purchased.

What I did find by using this approach extensively, was that special interests became apparent. You can read in one of my previous posts about how my daughter became passionate about Asia following a unit study on Japan and China - we made simple lapbooks. Go to my 'Learning at Home' category in the archives or use the search button for my blog. Today she is learning Mandarin and still borrowing books from the library to educate herself about China and other Asian cultures. She is about to read about the history of tea. The book she has looks fascinating - I want to read it too!

As an interest unfolds I allow each child to devote more time to its study. They keep on studying the foundational subjects to the extent that they need - calculus may be vital to one but not needed by another. A foreign language may be desired by one but does not interest the other in the least! In this way, I can cater for each of my older children to have a plan of study that is unique to them and prepare them for their journey into adulthood. One young person may have more practical assignments, the other is more focused on academics for the direction he is heading in. This is one of the delights of a home education - there is no 'one size fits all!'

Hope you have enjoyed these posts. Delving into lapbook learning is fun, it takes a little effort on your part but you may be surprised at how much your children learn. Oh and you will too, I have picked up so many facts over the years that I can still recall - my husband has threatened to enter me on 'Millionaire' one day... let's hope the big prize question is about braided rivers!

With Love and Joy,

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Lapbook Ideas and a Unit Study on Flight

I promised to share with you some more ideas for lapbooks and outline in more detail one of our best unit studies 'First to Fly' which introduces children to the physics of flight by taking them through the incredible story of the Wright brothers. Take a peek inside our 'First to Fly' book and you will find accounts of experiments, models from the aviation timeline we constructed which was strung across the rafters in our dining room for several months, an essay by my son who was 12 at the time and adorable drawings of famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart by my daughter.

These samples are the materials we used to make aerofoils - the special shape of the wing of a plane which is more curved on its upper surface than underneath. After constructing the aerofoils, they are mounted on skewers, inserted into a styrofoam block and have to be tested using a hairdryer to create lift to make the aerofoil climb the skewer. This is just one of the different experiments undertaken during this unit. Can you imagine how much fun my children had! They also made model planes and had test flights and competitions outside! There was enough scope in the activities to cater for a 12 year old and allow his 4 year old brother to participate too! I just love this multi-level learning!

All the information and activities for this unit came from one book 'The Wright Brothers for Kids How they invented the Aeroplane' by Mary Kay Carson published by Chicago Review Press. This fantastic resource gives a detailed history of the life of the Wright brothers - perfect for our read alouds with numerous black and white photographs accompanying the text and there are 21 different activities which teach children the physics and dynamics of flight. We did not do them all, just chose the ones for which we had materials and equipment readily available - such as mum's hairdyer!

Here is an outline of what we studied. I have included this for any home educators reading this post who may want to do a unit on flight. I highly recommend the book I used but there are lots of resources on the Wright brothers out there should you not be able to find this particular resource.

Part 1. Early Days
Read aloud corresponding chapters.
Begin construction of timeline - adding in early aviation events such as 1st balloon flight.
Make some models or use toys that fascinated the Wright brothers as children - make and fly a kite, use an old fashioned spinning top.

Part 2. First thoughts of flight
Read and discuss 'bird envy'. Observe birds in the garden. Make a flip and fly book to illustrate the sequence of wing movements in birds.
Ballooning - grocery bags and a hairdyer required to explore the lighter than air technology of ballooning.
The 4 forces of flight - make aerofoils and test them
Read about Sir George Cayley's contribution to the field of aeronautics.

Part 3 Under Control
Learn the 3 axes of motion - make a model plane using a kit. Have each child demonstrate roll, pitch and yaw.
Use a long box to demonstrate 'wing warping' in the same way that Wilbur discovered it using a bicycle inner tube box.

Part 4 Gliding at Kitty Hawk
Read about the Wright's gliding adventures
Design and construct paper gliders, use different wing shapes to test their performance.
Make a replica model of the 1902 glider and display on the timeline. (Wish this was still around to show you. My son made an amazing model using just card, sellotape and bamboo skewers!)

Part 5 A Dream Fulfilled
Read about the feat achieved at Kitty Hawk. Discuss the approach of the Wright brothers that enabled them to be the 'First to Fly'. We also watched a movie/documentary.
Make model propellers.
Draw up a replica set of plans for the 1903 Wright flyer.(Maths/measurement activity for 12 year old)

Part 6 The Wright Brothers Legacy
Read about the history that followed, the perfection of the plane, the legal battles, media reaction.
Further reading/ research on other famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Jean Batten and Richard Pearse, a relatively unknown New Zealander who built and flew a powered flying machine prior to the Wrights - but why were the Wright brothers considered 'first to fly.'

It does sound involved but with the book as my main resource we worked our way steadily through each chapter. For at least one month maybe longer because the boys were so fascinated by the subject, we read and discussed flight, drew pictures, made models. It was so interesting and the hands on activities were relatively simple to organize. To this day the 4 forces of flight are etched in my brain! At the end of the unit I asked my son to write a short essay on the Wright brothers asking why they were first to fly. It was apparent from his answer that he understood, citing their scientific approach, their detailed research, debating with others, coupled with chance discoveries.

Another activity which might appeal to boys is to learn together the stages of how something is built - in this instance, a car. My son was very small at the time and wanted to know how a car was built so I found a book which outlined the different stages and made him a concertina book. This folds out and was made over several days.

You can make concertina books for any kind of process. We made a giant fold out sunflower to show the stages of growth for a plant. Fold out books can also be used when constructing timelines. The one below was made for a study on the history of housing. You could make models of course but these are not as easy to store.

Models also tend to be played with, especially planes and the cardboard castle we constructed for our unit on medieval life. This is one model that has survived - my son's model of a mobile phone from the year 2000! The glued on rubber numbers have long fallen off. This is the same son who wanted to know how a car was built. 'Mum how do cell phones work? I came up with the idea of the giant model mobile and found out all he needed to know at the time at

The same son was thrilled to win a Lego movie making set when he was 8 years old for a drawing he entered in a Lego club competition - he wanted to win that set I can tell you and worked diligently on his drawing. Can you imagine his delight when he found out he had won! He even made the front page of the local newspaper because a relative rang them up and let them know that a local boy had won the New Zealand section - there was only one prize for the country!
I'm sharing this to encourage you to allow your children to enter competitions as part of their education - art, writing, country fairs and A and P shows. When there is a prize it really motivates them to do their best!

Isn't it interesting that today he is doing a technology degree? Who knows what your model building child could be doing one day! But models do not have to be massive or major undertakings.

Making a simple cardboard microscope encourages a child to take a close look at the layers of rock and learn the names in the process - much more fun that just doing a black and white diagram!

Here's a unit that will appeal to both boys and girls. 'Mad about Medieval' was probably the most involved unit we have ever undertaken and definitely one of the most memorable for at its conclusion we hosted a medieval banquet to which we invited several families. We decorated the 'Great Room', dressed ourselves and the table and cooked authentic medieval recipes - I spent a whole day in the kitchen but I can tell you medieval food is delicious. This is the menu card from our dinner.

We also made a huge cardboard castle, the boys relished the chance to construct and use 'play' swords and we created a family shield to learn about heraldry. Also a good time to learn about the art of chivalry! This is for sure, a once a year full on unit. We do not always go to such extremes but it was so much fun and lots of learning took place. On the day of the banquet we had friends from overseas ring us to tell us they were in Australia and traveling through our region. 'Could they call in to see us - would we be home? 'Yes, we'd love you to come and see us - we're home, we're not up to much, just cooking a medieval banquet!'

I still have some more ideas for lapbooks - bear in mind we are digging into archives here - this is not just one year's worth of learning! We have been using a unit study approach to learning for almost 12 years and I have kept a lot of the resources my children created. I have so much to show you - more ideas for lapbook components, useful resources to have in your craft supplies for creating lapbooks and homemade board games. I will also share how my older children moved on from this style of learning to a more personalized study approach in the high school years.

More inspiration coming soon.

With Love and Joy,

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love to Learn with Lapbooks!

Today I am opening up our homeschool archives to share with you lots of ideas for learning and presentation of work in the different subject areas. If you are wondering what topic to cover next or are searching for methods that might motivate your child who is wilting over workbooks, tired of textbooks and 'been there' with 'busy work', I'm hoping that there might be something in this post that catches your eye!

If you have been homeschooling for a while you are probably familiar with lapbooks. I was introduced to them by an American homeschool mom who was living here a number of years ago when her husband was the minister of a church in a nearby city. Thank you Kelly - we still have the first lapbooks on insects we created at the homeschool support meetings you used to run!

Lapbooks are simply a cardboard folder - you open up the folder and fold the sides into the centre. This gives you a bigger area to display information such as maps and illustrations and they can be used to hold brochures and worksheets relating to the topic the lapbook is about. I love lapbooks for several reasons - first and foremost they are easy to store. We keep ours in a plastic archive box as you see below.

Before we discovered lapbooks we used conventional files to hold information and homeschool work.

This is my son's first homeschool folder. It still holds samples of his work such as stories and drawings. Can you tell which country we used to live in? Do you remember Jonah Lomu? Gosh have we been homeschooling this long?! I could not resist showing you one of my son's drawings.

He used the Paint accessory on Windows 95 for his insect picture. He was 6 years old and he loved to use the computer to create designs. He still does! Yesterday, he received a mark of 'High Distinction' for his website design for his current online unit of study via Curtin University. The comment from the tutor was 'Wow!' followed by several positive remarks. I wonder if they realize he is still only 17! His design and computer skills are exceptional - if only I could persuade him to redesign my blog!

I love lapbooks for they do encourage design skills. The front cover needs an eye catching design. Here is a selection of some of the country lapbooks created by my children in recent years. The Israel lapbook opens up to display a calender of the Jewish year.

A peek inside our South America lapbook. My children love making flags which they tape onto wooden skewers. For this unit we constructed a salt dough map. It turned into a wonderful game - of inserting the correct flag onto the country. It may have been six years ago but they can still remember all the countries and most of the flags. I was hoping to repeat this activity for our recent unit on Canada then I saw the Canadian coastline and decided against it! We did make flags though! And maple syrup pie! Cooking deserves to be a part of every unit. I call it edible learning!

Notice the 'lift the flaps' activity. This is something I often incorporate into lapbooks for learning facts - little self tests on capitals. I love the hands on nature of these types of exercises and believe it helps reinforce learning.

This is a wheel that turns. It is a diagram that shows the different layers and corresponding temperatures of the planet and comes from our 'Having a Blast' unit study on volcanoes. I had not discovered lapbooks then but had started to create note books with the children.

This is another 'lift the flap' element. It is meant to be a bunch of grapes, you lift the grape to find a word to describe grapes. We had earlier had a vocabulary brainstorming activity during a unit of study on how wine is made. As we live close to a vineyard we have been able to go on a 'field trip' or should I call it a 'vine trip'. All the family helped with the grape harvest. It truly was a hands on learning experience. We put together this lap book after our trip.

I already had a children's book from New Zealand packed with photos of vineyards and the wine making process. I often use just one book to base a unit around. Books and/or field trips often stimulate a project.

My son loves his 'Star Wars' folder assembled after a visit to the Star Wars exhibition at the PowerHouse museum in Sydney. It makes a wonderful souvenir! Lapbooks are wonderful memory books too. He has never forgotten his visit and the hands on science exhibits.

Especially when you get to have your picture taken with famous robots!

One more peek into one of our homeschool resources. 'First to Fly' was a memorable unit that combined history and science and was based around a really good text book that not only shared the amazing story of the Wright brothers but offered lots of simple to make hands on activities which taught the physics of flight. I learned more about physics during this unit than I did during two years of physics lessons at school! And my children loved it! Want to peek inside? Come back for my next post - I will cover in more detail the activities for this unit and show you more from our homeschool archive resources!

Hope this has given you some ideas - lots more to follow!

With Love and Joy,

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sweet Fruit and Nut Sourdough Bread

Sweet sourdough bread is a wonderful food to enjoy at breakfast time. Two taste sensations rolled into one, ensure that this bread is devoured, crust and all and never makes it to the chook pen. I make it in the morning, leave it to rise all day and bake it in the evening. Our local supermarket stocks genuine sourdough bread from two different bakeries but it comes at a cost - expect to part with $8 for one fruit loaf, now that is way beyond my family budget but I'm blessed to have my 'grandma' to help me. Just come into my kitchen and meet her and learn how simple it is to make your own sourdough bread at home.

Meet my 'grandma' - my heritage sourdough starter. She is reported to have come to Australia from Idaho a long time ago and was passed down through several generations of one family, multiplied and given away to different people over the years including me. I have kept her alive for over four years since she came into my possession. If you really want to make sourdough you need to find yourself a starter or failing that, make one yourself - google 'make sourdough starter'. If you want to use one that is already in existence, I would ask around your local community - inquire at your local wholefoods store, they may know of someone who bakes with sourdough who is prepared to give you your first batch of starter. Just remember to repay their kindness by keeping it alive by replenishing it each time you use it with flour and water.

So here is how I make a sweet fruit and nut sourdough.

To one cup of sourdough starter I add one cup of water (not too cold) and one cup of flour. I mix the flour in gently and leave it to rest for at least 20 minutes before adding in the rest of the ingredients which I initially combine with a wooden spoon or spatula in my big 'grandma' mixing bowl.

This heritage style bowl is a $20 reproduction and came to me via 'The Warehouse', a store in New Zealand. Amazingly, it has survived a trip across the Tasman and not yet slid off a bench to its shattering doom on the tiles below. I protect this bowl at all costs and have been known to run across the room at top speed and perform a save which should have put me up for selection for goalie in the 'Matildas' (Australia's women's soccer team) as it headed for the 'tiles of no return' following rather vigorous mixing by toddlers! If my mixing bowl ever dies I have its funeral planned with full kitchen honours in recognition of the service it has provided! Okay, back to the recipe! After resting the starter and flour add

2-3 cups flour - a very approximate measure as I work by feel. It should be a workable wet dough.
A generous pinch of salt
2-3 Tbs sugar
a handful of dried fruit of your choice - I love chopped plump, unsulphured apricots, craisins, sultanas, dates whatever you prefer
a handful of chopped nuts again whatever you prefer - macadamias, pecans or flaked or slivered almonds.

After combining with the spoon and bringing the mixture together in the bowl, it is transferred to the bench top and kneaded. This takes only a few minutes and then the ball of dough goes into a covered container - I use a plastic bowl with a lid - and it is left in a warm place to rise for the rest of the day. I find 7-8 hours is more than sufficient.

The dough comes out of its container, is shaped into a loaf with floured hands, popped onto a lined baking tray and goes into a hot oven (180-200 c) for approximately 40 minutes until it is risen, golden and sounds hollow when the base is tapped. I leave it covered with a tea towel sitting on the bench until breakfast time when it is sliced, possibly toasted and spread with butter and preserves if you wish. If it is sliced thinly, there may be a few slices left for morning tea, however, as winter arrives I'm not expecting this to happen often but I cannot imagine a more delicious start to the day!

With Love and Joy,
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