Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Toddler Fun in March

Ben continues to entertain us at GPE as we often find ourselves pausing for a good giggle at something Ben has said or done. He also seems to be easing into his own little niche of entertaining himself for longer stretches of time! 

Here are just some fun pictures of what a 2-year old enjoys during our mornings in the classroom!

 Play-Doh fun! This was the first time he had rolled it all out by himself to cut out shapes. 

 Abbie's so good about including B in the calendar time! Here she's showing him where to put the numbers on the "Days in School" board. 

 This is B's new favorite game! I ordered it from Current Catalog and I can't say that it's super durable or has great quality ... but it has brought much happiness to my little man. : )

What caption would YOU give this picture?! 

 Making the date with money ... 

 The semi-truck trailer full of matchbox cars has been resurrected! B found it in the corner of the closet and therefore spent at least 30 minutes organizing the cars, then dumping them all out, then organizing them, then dumping them out ...

 He's getting pretty good at putting this train set together!

 Here Ben is stringing his button attached to the black ribbon through felt squares that have holes in the middle (pretty hard for him at this point). This new activity came from the Toddler Activity Bag Swap I participated in with about 14 other moms in my area! It was awesome ... 14 new activities for Ben to enjoy! YAH!

This is another activity from the Toddler Activity Bag Swap! He's still working on fine-motor skills as he couldn't quite get that clothes pin open. 

Markering all over Ellie's sentence starters is another favorite activity of B's. Drives the girls nuts, but what can you do? Choose your battles, I say...

Like I said ... he keeps us smiling! I hope his busyness makes your heart smile "teeeeeewww"! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Workboxes: My (New) Favorite Organizational System!

This was a revolutionary week for us ... and that is a good thing! And it has to do with organization ... my favorite thing in the world! : )  I stumbled across the world's greatest classroom organizational system for moving the girls from a teacher-directed approach to a more student-driven (higher independence and responsibility) approach to their learning.  What was the key, you ask?


I came across this idea several months ago through the amazing Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler (have you checked her website out!? She's truly saved me this year). At the time I saw her use of workboxes, I literally thought to myself, "Wow, now that's a lady who wears a cape! How DOES she do all this?!" So, not believing I was operating at cape-wearing status to pull something like this off, I put off setting up workboxes of our own. And now, of course, I wish I had done this months ago! In just one week's time, they have completely revolutionized how we do school, and I now understand why I was literally going nutty trying to accommodate an 8-year old's learning needs and levels along with a Kindergartener's needs and levels, and a toddler boy climbing up walls (or just on tabletops)! All in the same room! 

So. Workboxes are my new favorite thing ... IN.  THE.  WORLD. And what's better is the girls RAVED about them! : ) Here's a picture of what they look like:

I ! LOVE !  THEM ! 

So here’s the gist of how we use the workboxes:

  • I bought a 6-drawer storage unit for each girl, and stuck two velcro dots on each drawer (far left and far right). 
  • I printed out 2 sets of subject cards from Erica's website (click HERE to print them), and put a velcro dot on the back of these. 
  • Each evening I organize each girl's set of workboxes with the learning tasks for the 5 subjects they can work on semi-independently, along with everything they need to complete each task to save the inevitable "where are the scissors?" or "I need to sharpen my pencil!" time-wasters. Here's a picture of what the contents of a drawer looks like:
  • The girls must complete the workboxes from top to bottom - no exceptions! This helps me manage my time and availability to each of them, and also sets them up for more success as I try to organize the order of their subjects based on their strengths/needs. For example, starting Abbie off with composition will surely drive me straight to Dairy Queen before 10:15am out of pure misery and frustration!  (Wait ... maybe that's not a bad thing!?)  On the other hand, starting her out with history, silent reading, or math goes much, much smoother.
  • I can also add a "Work With Mom" card on the righthand side of the drawer which tells the girls that for this workbox, they need me to either get them started or provide direct instruction (ie math, phonics). 
  • At the end of their 5 workboxes, they have a FUN BOX which has something fun and often with educational value to end their workbox time with. They LOVE this, and so far this week the Fun Box has given them motivation to work hard on the previous 5 boxes. (YAH!)

The workboxes occur during the middle of our morning, so our new "schedule" looks more like this (and no, I'm not going to attach a beautifully designed Excel document down to the 15-minute marker, though I still have a weird infatuation with that thing!): 

9:00 - Group Time for Bible reading/prayer, Calendar Connections, history reading, Ellie's science focus, and a read aloud. 

10:00 (ish) - Workboxes!  So far, I've focused on math, composition, handwriting, phonics/spelling, reading, and history for their workboxes.

11:15-11:45 (ish) - Group Time again for a read aloud / literature study

Lunch and free time

1pm - Group Time for art, science, a music history lesson, or finish something from the morning. 

So there you have it. Workboxes are the highlight of the month so far, and I'm so thankful for those who have gone before me in this homeschooling journey and are so eager to share their ideas! We'll keep tweaking this system to make it work more smoothly than our first week, but systematically - I am on board!!! 

And just for good humor, here's the "Picture of the Week" of Ben: 

Picking up the kernels of corn he threw out of his lunch bowl. Yep - we're still in Toddler Bootcamp around here! I love that little man.

From our household to yours, with loads and loads of workbox-love!
The Utechts 

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Lewis & Clark Expedition

This week we took a break from our regular history curriculum because we had finally reached the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and just HAD to do a little unit on Lewis & Clark's expedition from 1804 - 1806 of this newly owned United States territory! After all, we live in the heart of a huge stretch of this journey, so why not take the week to explore and learn about this great adventure!?  

Of the several books we found at the library, our favorite was "Seaman's Journey" by Patricia Eubank, Patti Reeder Eubank and P. Eubank. In fact, we loved this book so much, I had to just buy it! : )  Seaman was Lewis's guard dog and traveled the entire expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back to St. Louis!  I also confess my new love for Newfoundland dogs, which I'll never likely own while living in town. They get up to 150 lbs! But wow - such loyal, friendly dogs. Check out this book the next time you're at your local library!

I also found a few fun activities that I found on Scholastic.com to do with the girls. One of them was to pretend we were one of the explorers and record a few of the new animals, plants, or information about weather or the Native Americans in a journal. So we decided to write about 6 things the Corps of Discoverers would have found:  prairie dogs, corn, buffalo, shirts made from hides, bears, and creating maps. 

Abbie played an interactive game on nationalgeography.com where she could join the Corps of Discoverers and had to make decisions on what she should pack, how she'd prepare for the trip, and what adventures might come on the way. This was a fun game!

And by the end of the week, we all five made plans to visit the Knife River Indian Villages, Fort Mandan, and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center! It was amazing and I'm quite sure we'll be returning to all three of these locations for more learning, kids camps, visits, and fun! We especially wished that Grandma and Grandpa Holm could have joined us for this field trip, as they are both incredible historians and Lewis & Clark enthusiasts! 

We had read a little about these bull boats which were made from wood and buffalo skins. They were used to carry buffalo meat back to the villages from hunting trips, finishing, and other transporting of goods along the Missouri River. 

This is an earth lodge we visited at the Knife River Indian Villages. These lodges are HUGE ... they'd have to be when a whole extended family lived together (grandparents, children, and grandchildren).  
 This was taken outside the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center next to a statue of Seaman : )  

 Abbie reading about a bear attack on a few of the men of the Corps - their first encounter with a grizzly and one that certainly put a proper fear and respect for these creatures in the explorers! 

 This was a model of the military uniform the captains wore on their expedition to identify themselves to the Natives as Americans. 

The Corps of Discoverers wintered in North Dakota from the start of winter of 1804 - April of 1805 near the Mandan and Hidatsa Natives (two friendly tribes). The fort Lewis & Clark built, Fort Mandan, was built near the Mandan and Hidatsa villages.

We were able to tour a replica of Fort Mandan (which was built in the 1970's). It was built in the shape of a triangle and housed over 50 men, as well as Sacacawea and her newly born baby, Jean Baptiste. 

The "courtyard" where there stood an American flag. 

This was Lewis & Clark's writing desk in their quarters. During these winter months, they got caught up on their journal writing, map drawings, and made further plans for traveling west.

Though Clark wasn't an "equal" from the President's standpoint, Lewis made him an equal and called him "Captain". Therefore, both men shared these quarters and slept on beds at the same level. Interesting that Lewis considered him an equal - this was truly a team-effort!

 This is inside the visitor center at Fort Mandan where they have a little corner of fun kid stuff! This was a real life-sized replica of Seaman, Lewis's guard dog on the journey! HUGE is an understatement!  

A fun boat ... who doesn't like to row in a boat!?  

Not surprisingly, Abbie takes charge!

Fun play "Corps of Discoverer" clothes for kids ...

 Daddy managed to take a rest in the tent! 

 I think I'm in love with a dog named Seaman ... 

And I also think after a quick "pit stop" in our history curriculum to just barely glance at the Lewis & Clark expedition, that there is now so much more we all want to know! Ahhh ... the joys of life-long learning! Now on my already too-long list of books to read is Stephen Ambrose's account of this amazing adventure  in "Undaunted Courage".  Who's read it!?  (DAD?!)

Moreover, what do YOU know about Lewis & Clark's expedition that you'd like to add or share?