Homeschool Summary – Jan 2015

New Classroom Layout

New Classroom Layout


January passed by fast, probably due to the fact that I had such fun in the classroom.  Compared with the despair, frustration, and lack of motivation that ended last semester, taking 3 weeks for prep and vacation restarted my fire.  During prep week, I installed a new math shelf in the classroom, bought new materials (Geography maps, math, sandpaper letters), and re-arranged my the classroom layout so we can have a Japanese kotatsu to keep us warm in the cold basement classroom.  I focused a lot of my attention to prepping Chinese language materials.  I shared them on my blog and got responses, which also excites me, knowing I’m not all alone and there is a community out there of people who are passionate about Chinese and material making.  Doing things I love excites me.  Those are the two things I learned this month.  Being allowed to do things you love, at your own time schedule, propels your motivation and passion for life.  (And how do I arrange my classroom environment to really allow for this?)  Second, sometimes taking a break is all you need to start the learning process or motivation all over again. (Read this in How We Learn, but really nothing beats having to experience it to bring it home.)  I try to keep this in mind when I get frustrated or when the kids get frustrated with school.

So with all this rest to think and get re-motivated, I made a few changes to our routine.  I introduced some daily chore time, morning exercise, and checking on the garden before we start work.  It’s helped us transition better I think.   I also read a post about the work plan.  As a result, I asked her before we started the semester on her goals for learning this semester.  This is how we arrived at her Money Research project.  We also work on the daily work plan together more and I follow her interests more.  I think this also has made for happier school this month.

However, not all’s fun and roses.  I still have “issues” I’m working through.  The biggest is the how in the homeschool environment, it seems any “teaching” activity we bring out, the kids are done with it after presentation.  They don’t want to work on it anymore.  But since I have no solution, there’s nothing much to talk about.

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Sagebook Chutes and Ladders


This is the third week that Astroboy is on Sagebook’s first book.  He seems to be having a lot of trouble with the “concept” characters like 很, 指, 隻, etc.  Given the success of the other games I introduced last week, I thought I would try a character game with him this week.  Today, I pulled out the Chutes and Ladders game.  I realized the other day that Chinese characters are just like sight words!  So any sight word games you see in English, you can do it in Chinese too.

Chutes and Ladders

  1. Place your tokens at the starting point.
  2. Roll a die and walk as many steps.  Read the character you land on.  If you read it wrong, go back to previous step.  If you read it right you can stay.
  3. You may sometimes go up a ladder (red line) or go down a chute (green line). You may also land on a square requiring you to sing the zhuyin song or use your body to compose a character.
  4. The first person to reach the finish line wins.  Make sure you discuss in advance if you need to roll the exact number to reach the finish or not.  Otherwise you will have cranky kids!

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DIY Nomenclature Cards or Flashcards

Geometric Solids

If you homeschool at home, suddenly there are many “tools” you need to get in order to make materials.  In Montessori education especially, there are many nomenclature cards.  A friend asked about laminator this week so I thought I’d note down the specific items I’ve used to make these cards.  Because I hate researching and I had to research for each one to find cheapest price.

  1. 90lb Cardstock
    Originally I tried using 110lb paper because I wanted the thickest card so it feels like a commercial product.  But alas, I discovered that anything over 90lb most home printers won’t print and cheap laminators won’t laminate.
  2. 3-mil 9×11-1/2 Laminating pouches, 5-mil laminating pouches
    I use both 3mil and 5mil. Again, I originally wanted 5mil for all my nomenclature cards. But when you start making massive amounts, you realize that you don’t really need 5 mil except in a few instances.  So I’ve used 5mil for things like bead arrows. In general I make my materials in the following combo:

    • Regular paper + 3 mil lamination
    • Cardstock + 3 mil lamination
    • Cardstock + 5 mil lamination

    For example, for the Hundred Board game, I used regular paper + 3 mil because this was a quick material. For a bit of flexibility in feel when you hold the cards, I use card stock + 3 mil. For example, the Fraction Game cards. For items I want to last a super long time, I use Cardstock + 5 mil. These are cards I want to reuse for a long time by Thumper and Astroboy or to resell later or small items like the bead chain arrows I rarely use 5 mil now. Every time I think of how fast the kids will go through the cards, I’m reluctant to use 5 mil.

  3. Royal Laminator (PL2100)
    Laminator can be super cheap or super expensive. I got a cheap one because I figured I wasn’t going to be doing it day in and day out. It does my 5 mil and 3 mil fine. I usually run each one through twice. I’ve seen better ones at work from Fellowes where you can specify up to 7 or 10 mil and it is HOT. But this one is only $30 and it does the job.
  4. Bypass Paper Trimmer
    I went the expensive route for this cutter. Cutters are temperamental. The not so great ones just don’t allow you to cut straight. And the cheap ones sometimes don’t allow you to cut thick materials like 5 mil + card stock. I spend the money and the toner and ink to print something out, only to have it not be cut straight?! Drives me nuts.  For trimmers, I did some research and discovered that you don’t want the rotary ones.  Also some trimmers don’t allow you to change the blade.  I think this one does. I got a 50% off coupon and though it took several trips (I hate Joann’s! Long story) I did get the thing for around $50.
  5. Scissors- Fiskars 9 Inch Premier Titanium Nitride Shop Shears (12-96536984)
    What I do at least 70% of the time is actually cut by hand. If you are patient, often this gives you a better cut than a cutter. Because I hate that white edges on my cards. Making materials really bring out the perfectionist in me. Though with 5 months of material making under my belt now, I’m starting to see why teachers have always not been so exact. You do get tired after awhile, especially knowing the children may be will only touch the material 1-2 days.
    For scissors, I also went for a fairly good one because I’m cutting a 5 mil sometimes. I’m sure you can also get this while Joann’s Fabric has a sale.
  6. Corner Rounder –  R Memory Keepers Crop-A-Dile Corner Chomper Tool
    After you laminate and cut, I like to corner round each one. It is very sharp otherwise. And also a pain in the neck as it takes a long time. This corner rounder does 1/2″ and 1/4″. I usually do 1/4″. These things wear out quickly so you can’t have too many of them.

And let’s not go into the super expensive printer I bought to make my nomenclature cards and the tons of paper I burned through trying to print duplex correctly.

Second week using Sagebooks

This week, we continued our work in Sagebook.  Those flashcards are making learning a bit easier because there are so many uses for them.  For Thumper, she’s starting to drag her feet just a little in learning new characters, and having trouble remembering them when introduced.  I can see that she needs more work in the introduction part.  For Astroboy, we’re having a good time playing games with the character flashcards.   One night he told me, “I want to do 高山.”  It’s what he calls the Sagebooks because those are the two characters he intimately knows from the first book of Blue Series.  Warms my heart, especially since he lost interest last semester.

I owe it all to the games we can play with those flashcards.  Now, I know there is an aspect missing in all this work, which is self-directed repetition without teacher.  This helps build concentration and order.  I’m still searching for an activity that is interesting and does that.  However, right now my head is swimming with all the games I can think up with these characters.  Next week I’m going to try a Hundred Board.

One reason the children have problem remembering is because we are not spending enough time in the introduction work.  In Montessori-speak, the three-period lesson is how you introduce any new concept.  This is actually documented in Eric Eriksons’ work.  He was a student or student of a student of Montessori.  I wanted to point this out because it’s something I’ve made the mistake of not doing again and again.


Writing sentences

For Thumper, we’re still only writing sentences.  This week I pre-selected 3 cards for each day and paper clipped them.  By Tuesday she was getting the material out, selecting her 3 cards, constructing her sentence and writing them all down, all without my supervision.  She just gets me when she needs me to go over the characters with her.  I can tell though that she is starting to not remember some of the harder ones as now we’ve learned about 20 characters so I need to think of more materials that will help her retain the info.

Games We Played

Here are some of the games we’ve played this week to work on character recognition. Astroboy is really enjoying these games. Currently we’re working on all 20 cards in book 1 of Blue Series, because he has already read through the book numerous times since last semester, without a formal introduction to the characters.  But he just can’t remember the abstract concept ones like 很, 有, etc.

1.  Who can find the card the fastest?

Find the card

Find the card

I laid out 5-10 cards in order on the rug.  I name a card and we see who can find it faster.  When you find it, slap your hand on it.  For some reason, Mama is always slightly late!  If Astroboy gets it wrong, I get the card instead of him.  I keep refilling the cards as we play so there’s always 10 on the rug.  Whoever has the most card after the game wins.

After awhile, I let him call the cards out and name them.  He likes to name them and slap his hand on it.  This is kind of like writing before reading concept.  He knows the word he wants to use so it’s faster for him than thinking about what I’m asking for and then looking for it.

2.  Matching little cards to big cards.

Match the card

Card Matching

Astroboy has his own set of dictionary.  We played a game to see who can match the most number of cards.  Of course I chose the easy cards to match while leaving him with the harder words.  He has a lot of problem with all 20 cards out.  I had to show him that we match from left to right, top to bottom (another indirect way to teach reading).  I could totally write another post about how Montessori reading doesn’t help with Chinese reading (which is top to bottom, right to left).

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Fraction Games

According to Montessori curriculum, kids start in earnest with fractions in first grade.  Last semester, I tried to get Thumper to learn her fractions.  While it was obvious whenever we did it that she understands quickly and can advance to the next stage, she did not want to do it AT ALL.  Case in point, after introduction to fractions, we did nomenclature matching (Chinese to English to pictures to numbers), I had to kind of make her do it.  By that I mean putting it on her work plan and she dragged and dragged her feet till I pointed out to her it’s on her work plan.  Then it was fraction equivalence, I don’t even know when we started that work.   November? October?  She just finished that this week, mid January.  So that took 2+ months.

One thing I got out of homeschooling last semester is that maybe I need to really just accept the way my child learns and think of ways to appeal to her.  I know I know, such a Montessori concept.  But this means that I cannot just use the Montessori materials and presentations as I was taught.  Thumper is a creative one.  Show her how to do something, and more often than not she wants to play with it, see it used a different way.

This week, I remembered that I saw a fractions game at a Montessori school I observed.  After asking around and looking at albums, I learned that it’s not in the albums.  It’s just an extension the teacher made up.  We played this game this week.  Thumper had much fun.  In fact, I had much fun.  This week, school in general felt great because most of our time spent together was happy times.

Fraction War

The game is simple.  Fractions cards from 1, 1/2, 2/2, 1/3, 2/3,….10/10 are shuffled.  Each player takes one card, takes the fraction circles to make up that number, and compare the fractions.  The person with the bigger fraction takes all the cards and the person with the most number of cards by the end wins.  The direct aim of the game is to see visually how a fraction is represented and become familiar with it.

Extensions: Take out the large fractions if you really want to illustrate the fraction equivalent concepts in a concrete way.  Ask children to name fractions in English. Continue reading

Learning Chinese characters through Sagebooks’ Basic Chinese 500

This semester I’m focusing my attention on making Chinese materials.

Why Sagebooks

sagebooksEven before we started homeschooling I knew I wanted to use Sagebooks to learn Chinese. Sagebooks is the cornerstone of my curriculum.  What it’s providing is the character list that other materials can build on.  It’s developed by a Montessori teacher.  The premise is that from the first character you learn, you start reading. Unlike a phonics system, Chinese characters are pictograms.  Often students learn a separate phonetic system (pinyin or zhuyin) to help them read in elementary until they learn enough characters.  I believe you need 500+ to really read comfortably.  With this series, you start practicing reading sentences with illustrations on top (for hints).  This is important because a child can get very frustrated trying to read in Chinese.  There are just too many words they don’t know in the beginning.  AND they can’t sound it out!  I’ve heard many stories that ones a child learns to read in English, they don’t want to read in Chinese anymore, because the level of books they can read in Chinese is not the same as their developmental level.  Who wants to read board books when they really want to read stories?

Lesson 1

Lesson 1

Sagebooks is also unique in that they don’t teach the most easy to write characters first.  They introduce high frequency characters in a sequence that enables you to read the text.  For example, the numbers 1-10 are often introduced first, along with sun, moon, day, etc.  In Sagebooks, they introduce the Chinese characters for 4, 5, and 10, in the first series and nothing else.  I guess they expect that you’ll pick up the rest elsewhere! Instead, they introduce high frequency words that can be made into a sentence.  The first word is mountain (山), the second high (高).  By the second word you’re reading a word phrase.

Lesson 2, reading!

Lesson 2, reading!

The readers are divided into 5 series, blue, green, orange, pink, red.  Each series has 5 books, each book teaches 20 characters, for a total of 500 characters.  There are also accompanying “Treasure Boxes“, also 5 books for each series.  You can use those to practice actually reading books, only using the characters that has been introduced to you in the series.  I call them series rather than levels because the characters don’t get progressively harder.  Though I do see that the first book has more words with fewer strokes than future books.  Sagebooks also have a final comics that uses the 500 characters (well I’m sure not all 500) you just learned as well as 5 idioms books. They also have ebooks, apps, and a 12 zodiacs books (which I don’t recommend).  Everything has both simplified and traditional versions except the ebooks and apps, which are only simplified.

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1000 and 100 Bead Chains, counting to 10000.

Last semester Astroboy was on a counting spree.  By the end of the semester, we’d kind of covered the end of “counting” as it was presented in my album.  But he still wanted to count.  How much does he like to count?  On our drive to swimming, he’d suddenly start counting from 1 to whatever he can get to.  He managed to get to 300 with very minimum help for me.  When we do any other math materials (addition, multiplication, operations), you can see what he really enjoys is counting the beads.   I did not see this before with Thumper.  It’s fascinating to watch a child at work in their sensitive period.

But what materials can I use in the classroom?  I was at a loss as to what to do until I bought the bead cabinet for Thumper to learn skip counting since she’s doing multiplication.  During my research of the bead cabinet arrows, it finally dawned on me that I should introduce linear and skip counting because the beads are way longer.  Now, if you read the Australian Montessori Council and their National Curriculum guide, or even Info Montessori it’s spelled out right there, Counting or Continuation of Counting.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me other than the fact that linear and skip counting is all the way at the end of my album and I was told during my training that kids don’t really get to linear and skip counting.  Plus, it’s all the way at the end of my album!  Somehow I thought that meant it’s the end of the sequence.  We rushed through these presentations during training since it was the last day.  If you look at the album though, it says age of introduction is 4.  Maybe the instructor was really talking about the concept of squaring and cubing.

Anyways, so now I know if someone were to ask me.  For counting, after the intro materials, teens and tens, hundred board, use the bead chains.

During prep week, Astroboy said he was bored and was happy to do the 1000 bead chain work when I suggested.  Now, before Christmas break, we played a lot of Hundred Board games.  He got really good at reading up to 100, 200, and 1100.  It doesn’t mean he knows what comes before or after a number, how to count that high, he’s just good at reading them.  However, I’m glad we did all this prep work because he didn’t have to learn how to read the numbers on top of counting the numbers.  This is why I suggested the 1000 bead chain.  Thumper wanted to join in as well.  Which turned out to be a good thing.

Because the classroom is a mess, I had the kids lay out the beads in a circle over two rugs.  The kids had fun laying out the beads together.  Once I dumped the bead chain arrows out, Astroboy got discouraged.  Too many arrows.  Thumper on the other hand, got right to work sorting them.  It’s obvious she has a better grasp of the numbers and their relationship with each other.  After showing Astroboy laying the arrows for #1-#9, #10, #20, he and Thumper worked together to lay out the rest.  He laid the arrows for the first few 10’s then got tired.  That’s what he says when he doesn’t want to do a long work.  So I gave him sets of numbers in hundreds (110, 120, 130, etc) and had him find them in order to give to Thumper, who for some reason really wanted to lay them out.

1000 Bead Chain

When they were done, we admired their handiwork and counted backward.  Though he found the work of laying out arrows from 1-1000 tedious, he painstakingly walked and counted backward along the chain.

I wanted to talk about Thumper’s counting and counting in Chinese.  You’re supposed to introduce that huge cube to count to 10000, or was it 1,000,000 in Elementary.  We haven’t gotten to it because I haven’t had time to make the material.  But Thumper’s been showing her sensitive period for counting as well, in a not as noticeable and different way.  Several times, she counted spontaneously in the car to measure how long it takes, in seconds, to get home from swimming.  She goes along with Astroboy when he counts and goes higher.  Both kids like to use big numbers, even though they have no concept what they mean when they say “I love you 100,000,000 times.”  What was evident though, through a bit of assessment last semester, was that Thumper didn’t have a firm grasp of reading and counting in the 1000s nor does she know how to count to 10000.  10,000 is actually the highest number you count to in Chinese before the counters “repeat”.

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