Rinoa’s Ostrich Lapbook

Rinoa is currently learning about animals in science. It is the first part of her three-part life science curriculum this year – with the other two being the human body and plants. Here is a lapbook we did to learn more about ostriches, including a video of her showing the lapbook and talking about ostriches. (With a few modifications, this lapbook project was taken from here.)


Rinoa’s History Lessons: Ancient Times

I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past that history has become Rinoa’s favorite subject. Each morning as we start our schoolwork, she would ask me if she has history lessons that day. When she doesn’t (since I alternate history and science), she would plead to have history – much to Mica’s irritated astonishment. (Haha!)

My curriculum is loosely based on the The Well-Trained Mind, and as such, I use the The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer to teach Rinoa history. (This is a four-volume series. We are currently using Volume I and studying about Ancient Times.) During class, I read to her a chapter from the book. (Sometimes we read together.) The book, written for grade school children, has an easy-to-read narrative style that introduces historical events and keeps Rinoa constantly engaged on the lesson. As I read to her, I ask her questions to make sure she understands what we’re reading. I also use a large wall map to show her various places and areas as we come across them. Afterwards I give her time to write down a short summary of what we just read and draw a picture to go with her narration. (According to the Well-Trained Mind, “narration is a way to develop the child’s understanding and storytelling skills.”)

Here are a few narration pages that Rinoa made for her lesson on “The Earliest People”:

Nomads by Rinoa Redington (5 years old)

The drawing shows a young nomad catching a lizard to give to her mom to cook for breakfast. The narration is as follows: “Nomads move from place to place to find food. The live in tents or caves. They eat berries, lizards, eggs, honey, and large animals like deer.”

The First Farmers by Rinoa Redington (5 years old)

The drawing shows a farmer hard at work. (He is wiping off his sweat.) He keeps his livestock beside his house (in the middle) and he has a field of crops on the right. The narration is as follows: “The first farmers live in the Fertile Crescent. They were nomads who stayed in one place and grew crops. They built houses and tamed animals like sheep and goats.”

Map Work by Rinoa Redington (5 years old)

When Rinoa is done with her narration page, we do some map work. This one shown here is from the activity book that goes with the Story of the World. (It is bought separately but is a huge time-saver.) Aside from the map work, the activity book includes review questions, sample narrations, coloring pages (which Rinoa love!), and lots of projects.

I supplement the Story of the World with the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History. The colorful illustrations in the book help Rinoa picture more vividly the lessons that we discuss. Some of the internet resources, especially the ones designed for children, reinforce our studies and keep Rinoa entertained.

Here’s a summary of the books I use for grade school history:

Con mucho amor,

Back to School

Summer is over in our household and we are back to homeschooling for the third year. As always, I’ve reassessed my goals and reasons for homeschooling. Every now and then, I start to lose confidence and question my goals, but what’s interesting is I always get some sort of sign that reminds me why Troy and I decided to homeschool. I was reading this book about incorporating poetry into daily life and it’s quite an unusual place to find an answer to my doubts:

“In our schools, grades K through 12, students are not so much educated as trained to perform well on standardized tests. They aren’t taught to think for themselves, question, or be curious. They’re encouraged to accept what they’re told without hesitation.” – Poetry as Spiritual Practice by Robert McDowell

Anyways, this year is a tough one because aside from teaching Mica, it’s the first time that Rinoa has a full formal curriculum. You can read about Mica’s subjects and her thoughts on homeschooling here. As for 5-year old Rinoa, she’s tackling first and second grade level subjects. And she’s loving it! Her favorite subject is history! (Would you believe?!) She begs to have history if it’s not scheduled for the day. It’s making Mica, who hates history, crazy!

To keep me sane during school days, I’ve dedicated a 2-hour break in the middle of the day called “quiet time”. During this time, Mica and Rinoa can do whatever they want as long as they stay in their room. It works well for us – it keeps us refreshed and ready for afternoon lessons. It’s especially important since they now have gymnastics class almost every evening.

Mica back to hitting the books this year.
Con mucho amor,

Lapbooking Meets Notebooking

Lapbooking was introduced to me by my cousin who is a homeschool consultant in San Diego. Apparently, it’s a growing trend among homeschoolers. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Lapbooks are an absolutely fun way to learn and can be implemented in any subject.

Our first lapbook project was for Mica’s literature study on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In conceptualizing this project, I knew I wanted to try the idea of a lapbook but make it so that the pages can be kept in a 3-ring binder. The result was a fusion of lapbooking, notebooking, scrapbooking, and mixed media collage. (What can I say, I was having fun!)

This is what the finished project looks like, kept in a 3-ring notebook. I used two 12×12 cardstock papers as the base. (One of my objectives is to use materials that I already have at home; and believe me, I have an endless supply of cardstocks!) I trimmed off 1″ on both papers to make each measure 11″ in length. I scored the papers vertically so that the width measures 8.5″ each with a 3.5″ flap. I then prepared the various mini books, pockets, and other elements that went on the pages and just had Mica put them together as she completed the different activities that I designed for her.
On the left outside flap, we placed several memorable quotes from the book. On the right outside flap, we placed a trifold minibook that contains quick facts about the book.
The “quick facts” mini book contains flaps for author, illustrator, publication place and date, setting, main character, and ‘what I liked about the book’. You open a flap and find the answer inside.
I had Mica gesso the main pages just for fun. (I’m in this mixed media craze right now.) Then I gave her pictures representing each chapter of the book and she glued them on the pages with arrows to show the story sequence. She rubbed some oil pastels around the pictures for an artistic touch, then wrote the chapter summary beside each picture. Also on the left main page, we attached a pocket that holds strips of paper for each character in the book and another pocket that holds a mini quiz book. On the left inside flap is a questionnaire analyzing the symbolism of the characters in the book.
The right main page is shown here with the chapter pictures and summaries. We also included a bifold mini book that holds another ‘analysis’ question for Mica to complete. On the right inside flap is a short writeup about the author, Charles Dickens.
The bifold mini book is shown here opened up. (I know it’s not exactly a mini book since it’s just one page but I don’t know what to call it.) And there you go, our first lapbook/notebook. Maybe I’ll call it a crossbreed lapbook – yep, that sounds alright.

Back to Homeschool

“If you’re fortunate, you live near an elementary school filled with excellent teachers who are dedicated to developing your child’s skills in reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and science. These teachers have small classes – no more than ten students – and can give each student plenty of attention. The elementary school sits next to a middle school that is safe (no drugs, guns, knives). This school also has small classes; the teachers train their students in logic, critical thinking, and advanced writing. Plenty of one-on-one instruction is offered, especially in writing. And in the distance (not too far away) is a high school that will take older students through world history, the classics of literature, the techniques of advanced writing, high-level mathematics and science, debate, art history, and music appreciation (not to mention vocational and technical training, resume preparation, and job hunting skills).” – from the Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer and Jessie Wise

I’m not that fortunate. That’s why I homeschool.

This is my second year homeschooling, with curricula (I have two) that are still based on The Well-Trained Mind. The book teaches classical education, which it defines as follows:

  • It is language-intensive, not image-focused. It demands that students use and understand words, not video games.
  • It is history-intensive, providing students with a comprehensive view of human endeavor from the beginning until now.
  • It trains the mind to analyze and draw conclusions.
  • It demands self-discipline.
  • It produces literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them.

The lessons I’ve put together are rigorous and structured, and best of all, they push my kids to explore their full potential. Not to say that we don’t have fun. Our school days are both bloody and hilarious. (Just to make sure I don’t get in trouble with the law – bloody is just a figure of speech.)

Mica is in 7th grade. Her subjects include Language Arts, History and Geography, Algebra I (designed for 9th grade students), Chemistry, Logic, Health, Computer, Latin, Spanish, Art, and Music. (I’ll share my methods and her works as we go along.)

Mica also ice skates. She’s preparing for her first competition this November and her first ice show this December. Aside from training with a private coach every week, she practices on the ice rink 6 hours a week.

Rinoa already has a solid foundation to start first grade this fall. She’s actually technically not qualified to enter kindergarten yet because of her age, but so far, she’s breezing through her first grade subjects, especially math! I’m still staying with the program I’ve put together for her because I don’t want to rush her too much. (I will also share some of her works in future posts.)

Rinoa’s extra curricular activity is dance. She takes a combination class that teaches ballet, jazz, and tap. She will be having a recital next spring.

Of course, aside from ice skating and dancing, I teach both of them piano as part of their music program.

Well, wish me luck as I’m hoping to survive this schoolyear with my sanity intact – lol!


Rinoa’s Homeschool Curriculum

One of my personal challenges in homeschooling is that I have two daughters – an 11-year old and a 4-year old. They can’t exactly share a program or even use the same books because they are so far apart in age. Imagine what a crazy life I have, trying to teach both of them everyday.

Rinoa doing math.

Since Rinoa is still preschool age, her curriculum isn’t as strict and formal as Mica’s.

1. Phonics
A great online resource that introduced Rinoa to phonics is It made learning the different alphabet sounds fun and exciting.

Everyday, we read at least two pages in the book Phonics Pathways by Dolores Hiskes. I love this book – I saw a big spike in Rinoa’s learning curve in just a few days of using this book.

As a challenge from her sister, we bought Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham a few weeks ago and Rinoa was able to read it by herself – just like how Mica was able to read it herself when she was 4.

2. Math and Handwriting
We just use whatever good workbooks I find in the bookstore. Right now, we’re working on the Kindergarten Ultimate Skill Builder by Learning Horizons. It’s got Math, Phonics, and Handwriting exercises.

I also make custom worksheets to give Rinoa lots of practice.

3. Science
I think what’s important at Rinoa’s learning stage is that she gets introduced to different subjects and concepts. We read a lot of books that discusses animals, plants, and other interesting topics. One of the books she enjoys is The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. It’s actually fun to read it.

4. Reading
So aside from reading books about Science, we also read story books – lots of story books. I want to instill in her the love for reading.

5. Art and Music
I also teach Rinoa how to play the piano, just like I teach Mica. And she takes part in our Friday Art activities.


Mica’s Homeschool Curriculum Part II

So to continue with yesterday’s curriculum discussion:

5. Science (3 hourse a week)
My goal for Science this schoolyear is to brush up on topics covering Life Science and Earth Science. Mica has already learned some in grade school but I want to give her more exposure on these topics without overwhelming her with lots of facts. Books we’re using are Usborne’s Complete Book of The Human Body and Reader’s Digest’s How Nature Works, How The Earth Works, and How The Universe Works.

We have just finished learning about the human body (the Usborne book has internet links, some of which Mica found really interesting) and are working on topics and experiments in “How The Earth Works”. I will post some resources for experiments next time.

6. Foreign Language (1 hour a day)
I asked Mica what foreign language she wanted to learn first and she chose Italian. We use Rosetta Stone – good for quick word to image recognition and to get pronunciations right but it doesn’t teach formal grammar. To supplement Rosetta Stone, I use a couple of online resources. I found this free and very informative site where I get all the grammar lessons I need. This online dictionary has proven to be invaluable. And here are some easy Italian readings for beginners that Mica and I will be working on deciphering. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to borrow Italian books from the library from time to time.

7. Reading (at least 1 hour a day)
By “reading”, I mean literature and not textbooks. The love for books is in our blood so it’s not hard to encourage Mica to read a lot. She’s actually a fast reader. She read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer in one day.

I choose a book that we read out loud – usually something that’s related to what we’re discussing in Social Studies. For example, we were discussing Ancient Egypt in Social Studies and her read-aloud book was The Golden Goblet by Eloise McGraw which is set in Ancient Egypt. We usually do the read-aloud before going to bed.

Aside from the read-aloud, she gets to choose a book that she wants and reads it on her own for at least 30 minutes a day.

Mica is currently reading L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables in the Kindle. If you have a Kindle
, great sources of free ebooks are Feedbooks and Project Gutenberg.

8. Art and Music (at least 1.5 to 2 hours every Friday for each subject)
I divided Art and Music into art/music appreciation and art/music skills.

To develop Mica’s music skills, I teach her how to play the piano. (I play the piano so I am able to teach her.) We use Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber. For every lesson, we go through a theory book, a technique and artistry book, and a lesson book. Aside from those, I give her piano pieces to study. For example, she’s already learned a simplified version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and Mozart’s “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman”. She is also required to practice her piano for at least 30 minutes everyday.

For music appreciation, we listen to this Classical Music CD for a few minutes every Friday before her piano lesson begins. The CD includes a pamphlet that is meant to be read while listening. It briefly discusses the different classical periods and composers and explains a little bit about the musical samplings on the CD. I intend to take her lessons in classical music further when she learns about the Renaissance in Social Studies.

Our art program is less formal. For art appreciation, we briefly discuss art styles and architecture in whatever period we’re learning in Social Studies. I believe this would get more formal and involved once we reach the Renaissance in Social Studies (which would be next schoolyear, if we’re still homeschooling). To develop her art skills, we’re currently working on exploring watercolor painting and charcoal drawing.

9. Technology (30 minutes every Friday)
Troy is currently teaching Mica how to use MS Word. We also have the Meavis Bacon Typing software that Mica will use to learn how to type efficiently.

10. Health (30 minutes a day)
We’re currently learning about food and nutrition and for that we’re using Food and Nutrition for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave

11. Physical Education
This is where we’re lacking. Mica started taking dance classes last year but because of conflicts in schedule, we have yet to enrol her back. Hopefully, she can resume this week. I’m also encouraging her to do Wii Fit at least 30 minutes a day – hey, it’s still exercise, right?

As a closing note: one of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I learn together with Mica.


Mica’s Homeschool Curriculum, Part I

One of the big questions about homeschooling is what to teach your child. I’ve researched extensively on a proper curriculum based on the learning style I want Mica to adapt. I wanted to be ready with a lesson plan before diving into homeschooling. I wanted to have a clear picture of what the schoolyear ahead would be like. I wanted to be confident that Mica will learn everything she needs to learn. We’re five months into this and I’m fairly comfortable with what we’re currently using. Most books are suggestions from The Well-Trained Mind.

I also want to point out that I’ve learned that it’s ok to switch curriculums in the middle of the schoolyear. If you’ve started with one and feel that it’s not working for your family, go ahead and make the necessary changes. Trying out things is part of the process – how else will you know what will work and what will not?

Moving on, here are the subjects we have every week and the books and resources we’re currently using. (BTW, Mica is in 6th grade.)

1. Mathematics (1 hour everyday)
We use Saxon Math. To determine Mica’s skill level, she took a placement test that’s available in the Saxon website, and from there we determined that she was ready for Saxon Algebra 1/2 (Pre-Algebra) which is usually studied in 8th grade. The Saxon homeschool kit comes with the student’s textbook, a test packet, and an answer book (which just shows the answer, not the solution). I like how Saxon continually reviews Math concepts throughout the book to ensure that students doesn’t just learn and forget.

Mica tries to finish one lesson a day, Mondays to Thursdays; and on Fridays, she takes a test.

Aside from just learning textbook lessons, I want Mica to understand how math can be used in the real world. For this, she does an activity with Troy every Friday from the book Family Math: The Middle School Years by Virginia Thompson and Karen Mayfield-Ingram.

2. Language Arts
Our Language Arts program is divided into Handwriting, Spelling, Grammar, and Writing.

Handwriting (15 minutes a day). To practice Mica’s handwriting and teach her how to write properly, legibly, and neatly, we use A Reason for Handwriting. (She’s using Cursive F.) The book contains border sheets that she can color and collate at the end of the year. I bought both the student book and teacher’s manual, but in my opinion, I could have done without the teacher’s manual.

Spelling (15 minutes a day). We use the Spelling Workout Series by Modern Curriculum Press. (She’s currently working on Level F.) We do a lesson a week – pre-test on Mondays, post-test on Fridays, and in between, Mica does the exercises in the book.

Grammar and Writing (1 hour a day). We use the English 6 Rod and Staff Grammar book. The set comes with the student’s textbook, the teacher’s manual, a worksheet book, and a test packet. I love using this LA course – it teaches formal grammar and writing/composition. And each lesson includes oral and written exercises of both current and past topics. From time to time, it also includes pop quizzes.

The only thing I don’t like about the Rod and Staff Grammar is that it sometimes refers to the Bible for sample sentences, and when it does, it uses the words “thy” and “ye” which confuses Mica.

Writing (2 hours a week). To give her more training in writing, I supplement the writing course in the Rod and Staff Grammer book with Writing Strands. I like how this book talks directly to the student.

Other Skills. As part of her Language Arts program, we do dictation twice a week. I read a paragraph from a book she’s reading and she writes down the paragraph as I dictate it. We also do memory work – right now, we’re working on Robert Frost’s “A Road Not Taken”. To develop her speech and audience skills, she will have to present the poem to an audience.

3. Logic (3 hours a week)
We use Critical Thinking by Anita Harnadek for Mica’s logic program. Troy is the one currently teaching Logic to Mica (since I’m starting to get overwhelmed). The book isn’t bad, although at the end of Book 1, Troy and Mica feel that the examples and exercises are not well made.

4. Social Studies (3 hours a week)
Our Social Studies program is divided into History, Geography, and Current Events.

History. History is a tough one. How do you make an 11-year old appreciate history and not get bored reading about it? I’ve changed resource materials three times before sticking to the one we’re currently using. The book we’re using is The Story of The World by Susan Bauer. Now, some comment on how the book gives little distinction between myths and actual history but I think it’s the “story-telling” that keeps Mica interested – so I see this book as just something “to get her feet wet”. We supplement the book with Usborne’s Encyclopedia of World History and online resources. I also created a blank timeline for Mica to fill up as we encounted important dates – it’s several sheets of paper taped together and rolled in a scroll.

Geography. We use the Geography Coloring Book by Wynn Kapit. It’s fun and informative. I supplement it with blank maps online, and for the US states and their capital, Troy created a fun application.

I expand on the Geography program by letting Mica outline the countries of the different continents, as she encounters it in the coloring book. For every country, she writes down the type of government, current leaders, demonym, language, currency, and major exports (among other things).

Current Events. At the start of each Social Studies session, I ask Mica to read a news article online. One of her favorite sites is Time for Kids.

Memory Work. One of the things that Mica needed to memorize for Social Studies are the US states and their capitals. She’s currently trying to memorize the US Presidents in order.

Phew! I’m beat! And I’m only halfway done describing Mica’s curriculum. So there’s more coming tomorrow.


Homeschool: The Beginning

Last September, as Mica entered her 6th grade in school, Troy and I took the plunge – we pulled her out from public school and started homeschooling her.

Why? Are we crazy? I must admit Troy is most of the time … but I’m not. (*grin)

We have been getting frustrated with Mica’s education – she’s a very smart kid but we feared that she’s not being challenged enough in school. We had a glimmer of hope when she passed the entrance test to a magnet school in our area – but when we checked out the school, we didn’t like where it was located. Troy and I both agreed we couldn’t have Mica anywhere near that neighborhood.

The decision to homeschool wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment. We’ve been contemplating it for a few years. And of course, we asked Mica if she’s willing to give it a try. Just like us, she had to think about it – but the idea won her over.

There are so many wonderful reasons to homeschool a child but the bottom line for us is that we want to maximize Mica’s potential. I especially like the concept of one-on-one instruction – this way, she doesn’t have to follow the class’ pace and be able to accelerate based on her rate of learning.

The process of transitioning from public school to homeschool was pretty easy:

Step 1: Research homeschooling laws in your state. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you see it), homeschooling in Illinois is unregulated. When we called the public school system to remove Mica, they only requested that we send a withdrawal letter for their records. Guiltily, I have yet to send the letter.

Step 2: Develop or adapt a curriculum based on your style of learning. We researched different homeschool curriculums available and decided to go with Sonlight. We used it for two months before we realized it wasn’t for us. I wanted more structure in Mica’s lessons. Then I discovered “The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I read it and loved their teaching strategy. It had more of the formality I was looking for. So I developed a curriculum based on the book and that’s what Mica is currently using.

Step 3: Prepare yourself for a most challenging but definitely rewarding journey. It has been five months since we started homeschooling. I’m definitely still overwhelmed, still anxious and fearful that I’m not teaching her everything she needs to know — but I can definitely see a HUGE improvement in Mica — to name a few: her study habits have become more efficient and her writing skills have improved tremendously. As Jesse Wise wrote in the book, “If I’d had a perfect school available, I would have enrolled my children in it. But I looked at the academic and social options, and concluded that, in spite of my failures, my children were doing better under my tutoring than they would have done in a group situation.”

I think what Mica loves most about homeschooling is that she can do her schoolwork anywhere. In this picture, she’s doing her schoolwork at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.
And then here, at the Marriott in Montreal, Canada.

Of course, I wouldn’t let my 4-year old daughter get left behind. She, too, gets her daily dose or reading, writing, and arithmetic.