10 Easy S.T.E.M. Activities for Your Homeschool

10 fun and thrifty STEM activities

 

 

Have you heard of S.T.E.M.?  I hadn’t heard of the term until my husband and I coached a F.I.R.S.T. LEGO League team in Alaska.  I wasn’t completely sure what it meant, you know, I know what the acronym stood for but didn’t understand why exactly science, technology, engineering, and mathematics needed to be “special“.  I had always thought of these areas of study as a natural connection.  While we were coaching our homeschool F.I.R.S.T. LEGO League team I soon realized that while the boys saw the connection they still were not putting the subjects together.  While that has been said, it is fair to mention that our team did win First Place for Engineering.  Other then joining a LEGO Team, I do suggest forming one, I have listed 10 easy S.T.E.M. activities  for your homeschool that you can do with materials around house and with little expense.

10 Easy S.T.E.M. Activities

  1.  Read.  You probably new that would be the first choice , we are Book Bound, after all .  Some suggestions for S.T.E.M. reading are:  Anna, Kid Engineer by Dr. Shenek Alston, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkawmba,  my son’s favorite, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
  2. From The STEM Laboratory you can use the LEGO Challenge Cards and other fun stuff.
  3. Straws! I give these to little boys at the restaurant I work at when it looks like their parents are getting tired  of entertaining them.  I cut them up into a variety of lengths and challenge them to build something and show it to me after they eat.  If you want to get serious you can visit Play Dough to Plato about building straw bridges,
  4. Playing Cards.  Not only can you have hours of fun using critical thinking and math skills you can build houses and towers with them!
  5. Did I say VIDEO GAMES?  Yup, Enter the National STEM Video Challenge using SCRATCH, Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, where you can design “interactive stories,  games, and animations” for free.
  6. For the future pilot in your home join the Aircraft Engineering Challenge and construct an aircraft at The Homeschool Scientist.
  7. Years ago, when my middle son was around 8 years old, we gave him a box that was filled with Duc Tape, foam board, craft sticks, paper clips and anything we could find that we thought he could be creative with.  You probably have made one before but now there is a cool name for it: S.T.E.M. Inventors Box.  Our little friend Anna from Anna, The Kid Engineer has an inventors box too.
  8. If you don’t have a marble run you can make one from paper towel tubes!  It looks like a lot of fun to put together.  Hmm, I think you could construct a straw bridge to this project.
  9. This wouldn’t be the easiest activity but it would certainly be a challenge.  What are your thoughts on toothpicks?  We already built bridges and houses with straws how about a pyramid with toothpicks?
  10. Here is my favorite!  It’s my idea however the idea was not as unique as I thought. I did find several resources for this science project and this Build the Three Little Pigs houses I found to be better used in a homeschool setting.  The idea came from this Build A Tiny House .

S.T.E.M. science books, reading, read

These 10 simple activities will make bringing S.T.E.M., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, easy to bring into your homeschool. What other ideas do you have?  There must be more. .  .

 

Anna Kid Engineer
ANNA, KID ENGINEER a wonderful book for inspiring S.T.E.M.

 

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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Book FRIENDS WITH BOYS

Books to read

Graphic Novel Book History

 Since the late 1980’s there has been a rise in the popularity of the graphic novel book. Not to be confused with the comic book. As much as I have enjoyed reading graphic novels myself when I was younger, much younger, the content has not typically been what I would have my son read. The purchasing of such a book has been avoided. Then my son received a graphic novel book as a gift. My mind has been changed after I read the book Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hick, published by Square Fish in October 2015. This 225 page book is intended for 12 to 16-year-old kids who want a fun easy read.

Maggie, the Homeschooler

It was surprising to me that I would have enjoyed a book as much as I did Friends with Boys. Young Maggie, the main character is relatable as a teenage girl. Her fears of the first day of high school are creditable because the author connects the idea of being the new kid and a freshman with the building maps showing were the classrooms are located, the cafeteria and the locker bay where kids sleep. Okay, so an area where kids sleep? That is an idea that should be shared with your local school board. There’s no one to talk to, have lunch with, she is alone. Until she meets a girl named Lucy and her brother Alistair. Lucy and Alistair have their own story and what they look like is shown in the graphics which really conveys their personalities.  I liked being able to  see the characters which is different for me because I prefer words to pictures. I found it interesting how the artist was able to show the personalities. And wait until you meet Maggies’ three brothers. You have the twins, Llyod, Zander and the oldest brother, Daniel. These brothers really care about their sister, Maggie.

Lucy and Alistair

Then we have Lucy and Alistair. These two have not been homeschooled. Their experience in high school seems realistic. I seem to recall seeing my friends go through what this sister and brother go through. Another reason to love this book! If you are a homeschooled kid you get a peek at public school. As the reader you see that Alistair does what’s right and stands by his little sister. As a parent this is something we want in a story. A story that shows the character doing what is right which is often not the popular thing to do. Faith Erin Hicks gives Alistair a fault that many people have but she shows the reader that even if you do the wrong thing at first doesn’t mean you can’t make the right choice in the end. Who can’t relate to doing that, right.

The Oldest Brother

While I like all the character’s in this book you might be surprised who my favorite character is. It’s not Maggie, although she is wonderful. It is the oldest brother, Daniel. I have seen him somewhere before, haha. I wonder if there weren’t an illustration how would he be described and would it fit my vision of him. I can say that his appearance fits his personality. He is funny, caring, easy-going, and it is obvious that he cares about his sister.  It is great that he is involved in theatre.  In my home school experience many of our kids get involved in theatre.  I don’t know why that is a “thing”.  I guess there is a lot of talent out there.  But I digress.

 

The Story

The story is set in today’s time period in what appears to be a small town. Maggie, who used to be homeschooled, is off to public school and entering her freshman year. Yikes! As she has to tackle all these first year new kid issues she also has a ghost following her around. This character, the ghost, has remained a mystery to me. I kept reading portions of the book where the ghost is featured but while I kind of know who she is, I just don’t feel like her story, the mystery, was resolved. The ghost is important in bringing Maggie and Lucy’s families together. She is an important character I just don’t have any solid foundation about her. Solving the mystery as to why this ghost is following Maggie around is the BIG problem. It is the mystery that brings both families together.

The Message

I loved the message that this book has for siblings and families. First off, we meet Maggie and her dad who is the new police chief of the town. He is portrayed as an easy-going man. His wife left him after all the kids were ready to attend high school. I did not like that at all because I thought the author was going to put home school families in a negative light. I am glad I was wrong about that. Her brothers are funny and act as I would expect them too. The entire family is encouraging and let’s Maggie know that they are there for her. Loved that!

A Book Worth Reading

Friends with Boys surpassed my expectations!  Shoot, how many times did I say “loved” in this review.  Wonderful example of morals and values.  Of how we can make mistakes but we can redeem ourselves too.  A big THANK YOU to Faith Erin Hicks for creating Friends with Boys.  I am ready to read her next book.

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Beginners Guide to Homeschool Lesson Planning with Google Calendar

There are many advantages to lesson planning and keeping your sanity is one of them.  When I finally came to my senses it was back in the middle ages (late 1990’s) of easy to use online lesson planning printables.  There were some that I truly liked such as the free planners at DonnaYoung.org.  She also created an Excel spreadsheet that was simple to use.  The only downfall to online printables and spreadsheets is having to write everything into the planner or a lot of copy and paste.  However, It was still more efficient than the other options.

I don’t recall where the idea of using Google Calendar came about but I thought it was a brilliant idea. It was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that.” moments.  At the time I was already using a pre-planned curriculum and while our homeschool would have run much smoother if a lesson planner had been used I didn’t try it until this year.  Sometimes I wonder why I waited.   I can color code, repeat days without using “copy and paste”, share and easily add unexpected activities and lessons. It will make your homeschool life easier. You can watch the short video or read how I plan my lessons with Google Calendar below.

“If I had my way, I would remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.” ― Roald Dahl Click To Tweet
  1. Login to your Google account.  If you don’t have a Google account you can visit here to create one.
    Login on to Google
    Login on to Google.
  2. Once you have logged in open Google Calendar 
Google Calendar in month view.
Google Calendar

Creating the Calendar

3. On the left side, you will see ADD A FRIENDS CALENDAR.  Click on the plus sign and click the drop-down and go to New Calendar.

Create a New Calendar
Add a Friends Calendar.

4. You are on the Settings page where you will create your new calendar.  This is where you add a name and description for your calendar.  I have named mine Homeschool and in the description, I like to have the school year and maybe the students’  name. If the state you live in requires more information you may want to add it to the description or add a link to a Google Doc that has the necessary details that your state law requires. Save your new calendar by clicking Create Calendar.

Creating a new calendar

 Tip #1

You can share the calendar with your students!  To do that click on the calendar you just created that is visible on the sidebar.  Click on the arrow and a menu appears.  There are several options but for now, you are going to Share with Specific People. Click and on the right, you are taken to the section to Add People.   Follow the prompts and remember to SEND.

Tip #1 Share your Homeschool Calendar
Tip #1 Share your Homeschool Calendar

5. Let’s add your main lesson/topic/unit study to the calendar.  For this, I prefer to be in MONTH view which you can find at the top right between the search icon and the gear.  Select the date you are going to start and click in that box.  You can also click on the RED circle located in the right corner.   A pop-up will appear.  Go straight to MORE OPTIONS. That will take you to the page where you will be able to add all the details.

Adding Your Main Lesson
Adding Your Main Lesson

6. For this example, the main lesson is named LITERATURE/LANGUAGE ARTS.  Because this study will last 4-6 weeks the date range will reflect that.  Select ALL DAY.  Make sure you have your HOMESCHOOL calendar selected not your personal calendar.  You can see that in the sidebar on your right.  Then SAVE.

Adding the main lesson/unit study/theme
Adding the main lesson/unit study/theme

What you are seeing here is how the calendar looks with the main lesson/unit study/theme/ for the weeks that it is being studied.  Time to add the assignments for your study.

Homeschool Lesson Planning
This is the MONTH view showing your Main Lesson/Unit Study/Theme

Creating the Assignments

7.  To create the assignments in your lesson plan have the calendar in WEEK view. To switch to WEEK view go to the drop-down menu at the top right between the search icon and the gear.  Choose the date and the time you will start the assignment.  Click on that location and the details box will pop up again. You are going to select MORE OPTIONS.

One method to create lessons.
Creating the assignments

8. This is where you enter the name of your lesson.  To make it easy to read for our homeschool portfolio I name the event; Lesson Plan and then the topicIt looks like this Lesson Plan: A Wrinkle in Time.  

9. In this example, we are going to have the class show daily, Monday through Friday, on the Lesson Plan Calendar and just for 1 week.  Select the date of the week and the time the class will start and what time the class will end i.e. 1:30 pm to 2:00 pm.  The dates should be the same.  Below the date and time selection, you have the option to click off ALL DAY or choose what days the class is going to be on.  click on the down arrow and click on  EVERY WEEKDAY.

10. After the dates and times are filled out then you can add the assignments for the week in the description.   You can read how I detail this in my blog post about lesson planning here.

The completed lesson plan in Google Calendar

This is how it will look after you have added the class to your Lesson Plan.

Tip #2

Color code each class for easy reading or color code each student.

Color code
Tip #2 Color code your classes and or your students.

After you set up your lesson plan in Google Calendar you will see how simple this is.  Watch the video at the beginning of the post then read through the guide.  Share how you use Google Calendar for lesson planning for your homeschool below.  I’m sure there are some creative approaches out there!

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How Lesson Planners Can Keep Your Sanity

How Lesson Planning Can Save Your Sanity
Time to Lesson Plan

It’s no secret that having a plan will get you where you want to go.

“Few people have any next, they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of their line.” Ralph Waldo Emerson Click To Tweet

When I first started homeschooling I never put much thought into lesson plans. I had focused on the approach versus the NEXT lesson. Actually, it seemed like a waste of time to lesson plan when the plan was to go to the next lesson or page. Why would I need to write a plan for that? It seemed pretty straightforward. Until the curriculum I purchased had a lesson that assumed my boys already knew how to do a task or it was boring or the boys didn’t understand. I hated when the curriculum had this great idea that required that I have a tennis ball, string, and a paper clip! My lack of planning lead to frustration and feeling overwhelmed. I was concerned that I was hurting my sons’ education.

It became obvious to me that I was going to have to change. I had to start looking ahead. At first, it was lesson planning light. That’s when you take your text and divide it up into days. You know: Monday read page 1-5, Tuesday read page 6-11, etc, etc. When that wasn’t enough my plans became more detailed with activities, other books, videos and more. It helped but I was still feeling overwhelmed. Then I learned about routines or what some people call rhythms. That changed my whole lesson planning world.

The What and When

Lesson planning will allow you to see the whole picture of your school year. From what you are teaching to when in the year you are going to teach. If we are planning on reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle I might assign it when we will be studying astronomy or physics. To integrate the study of our chosen literature selection and astronomy study I will choose to schedule this for spring or summer. Then tasks are assigned to each day. You might already be doing this when you plan your weekly schedule. For example Monday I clean out the refrigerator and Friday I go grocery shopping.

Behind the Why (the goals)

I’m just curious, do your kids ask you “Why do I have to . . .” Yeah, mine too. To be honest, when they first started asking me I really didn’t have an answer. I had to think about it. The answer when I was asked about literature was easy because I LOVE reading books. They are fun, relaxing, exciting, poetic, introspective and my list goes on. How about A Wrinkle in Time? As a parent, I am hoping it might guide my sons to imagine the possibilities in the universe. Maybe ask questions about the father, Mr.Murray and his career. These are my personal goals and at the same time address the countries common core standards. Educational reasons are: expand vocabulary, develop a world view, improves memory, creativity, writing skills, plus critical thinking. You can just say “It will make you even smarter.” I don’t know (ha, ha, ha), that worked for my oldest son.

Teaching Literature, Me?

So how do you go about teaching literature? This is the best part of homeschooling because you can do what works best for your child. My oldest son liked workbooks. I don’t like workbooks. Essay questions were the answer. I could ask guided questions where I believed he needed to understand or get the most out of that may apply to him. In A Wrinkle in Time the character, Charles Wallace, is unsuccessful at defeating the enemy (I don’t want to ruin the story for you)I would pose a question regarding the character emotions and how the character could have handled it. My second son is what people like to call a kinesthetic learner or hands-on learner. Together we would paint or draw a scene that stood out to us. This would give me an opportunity to talk with him about the story. Both boys had also created a clay caricature of one of the main characters of The Giver. Then there is the standard book report. To make this even easier, create a list of projects that can be used for each literature study. This will give you something to easily refer to while organizing your lessons.

Saves Time

This doesn’t read like it will save your sanity but it will, I promise. Here is what a lesson plan would like using this approach:

  • Step One: Select your subject.  In our example the subject is literature.
  • Step Two: Determine your time frame and when in the year you are going to cover the subject.
  • Step Three: What goals do you want to achieve with the subject.
  • Step Four: Develop a routine.

Day 1 Intro to book and author

Day 2 Discuss book i.e. characters, etc. ,

Day 3 Activity Day

Day 4 Writing,

Day 5 Work on Vocab and catch up
This is the routine you will do for every literature study. Easy right 🙂

Week One

Day 1: Talk about the author and share what you enjoyed reading and your favorite characters. Suggest reading the first chapter aloud.

Day 2: Have questions prepared to ask about the characters and answer questions if any. Encourage further thought about the story.

Day 3: Draw one of the characters using the medium of your choice.

Day 4: Write a summary of what you have read.

Day 5: Work on vocabulary and catch-up on any projects you need to complete.

Week Two

Day 1: Talk about Meg (the main character)and how her school life relates to his.

Day 2: Have questions prepared about the characters and answer questions if any. Encourage further thought about the story.

Day 3: Have him create a scene from the story that stands out him. He can make a diorama, draw, animate or any other method he desires.

Day 4: Select a character, different from the one he drew, and develop a list of the authors’ passages that she used to describe them.

Day 5: Work on vocabulary and catch-up on any projects you need to complete.

With this routine, if it is necessary to demonstrate that your child has met common core standards you are able to do that.

To save time you have to spend some time.  Now I focus on what is next on our plan.  The frustration and feeling of being overwhelmed are no longer issue.

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For the Love of Books

“you may never come out”

From a young age, I have loved books. Loving books means that your heart beats faster when there are shelves and shelves of books.  When you go on a vacation you are sure to look for the local bookstore. Hours can be spent thumbing through each page of a book but it seems like moments.  Your friends and family know that if you go into the bookstore you may never come out.

 

Books, books, and more books

 

That’s why when I first discovered Classical Education I was ecstatic, to say the least.  Lots and lots of wonderful stories! Sadly, for my sons, the approach was a bore.  They were young and they loved when we would read stories together but the lack of hands-on studies made the subjects lifeless.  As they matured and a third little boy was added to our family, we didn’t get to read together as often.  We also moved four times in 2 years (my excuse for reading to fall by the wayside.)

Now enter Charlotte Mason (another schooling idea that I’ll talk about another day.)  This, to me, is the best educational approach using literature as your homeschool curriculum.  Having met several homeschool moms through groups I had been convinced that a Charlotte Mason education would be the best especially for my boys and for this homeschool mom that loves books.

“homeschool supplies and our curriculum was limited to crayons, pencils, sketchbooks, and books from the library.”

We ended up moving to Oahu’, Hawaii and that’s when we started using Charlotte Mason. When we first moved there we lived in a hotel suite.  The room for any homeschool supplies and our curriculum was limited to crayons, pencils sketchbooks, and books from the library.  We didn’t live there long but it has been one of the most beautiful places to learn about and observe nature.   By the way, we only lived in the hotel for 2 months until we found a place to live.

Only living in Oahu’ for a short time my family boarded a plane to Juneau, Alaska. A big change from the warmth of the islands. The means to grow a new book collection literature was plentiful. In this small community, I would never have thought it was a literary place.  Four bookstores, three healthy libraries including a wonderful Friends of the Library bookstore where I could find any book I wanted or needed for homeschool and my growing personal collection of children’s vintage books.  Juneau, Alaska turned out to be the place where I could share my love of books with other homeschool moms who had the same desire and that was to open our children’s imagination with books.

“they appreciate quality writing and a good storyline”

You know, I love books so much that I have worked for the exchange of books.  This book craze of mine has definitely shaped my sons’ opinion of the written word.  While in all honesty not all of my son’s read as much as I do but they appreciate quality writing and a good storyline.  They can read a book and share their thoughts about the story and internalize the writer’s message.  In this, I feel that I have succeeded in creating that love for literature.

 

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