Learning History Through Art: braving clay & other art adventures

learning history through art | bas relief | ancient history art | Tapestry of Grace | ARTistic Pursuits

I remember in the past making a lot of excuses when it came to big art projects in our Tapestry of Grace curriculum. But on an impulse this year, I bought some air-dry clay. Maybe it was the creative rush of a brand new Hobby Lobby just opening in our area, maybe I was feeling excessively optimistic about our year—whatever the mind-set, I ended up with a big box of clay and no excuses. So I’m trying something new this year and braving the clay as we learn our history through art of different cultures.

First up on our tour, has been bas-relief. It seemed simple enough, as we read the instructions and looked at examples in our ARTistic Pursuits book. Carve out an image, smoosh the clay away from what you carved, add details, paint.

And honestly, it was that simple. All the kids enjoyed it. And I do love it when all my kids get to learn something together, from preschool to fifth grade. We learned Assyrian and Babylonian history through art and clay. We’ve been reading about the Assyrians bas-relief battle campaigns and, of course, the famous Ishtar gate of Babylon. Even my preschooler knows where the Ishtar Gate is on his talking globe. The boys chose to carve a dragon and a minion, while my daughter was inspired by the idea of Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

ancien history | bas relief | history through art | preschool

This was a two week project, and part of my campaign to overhaul Mondays. If you follow my weekly updates via my email list, you know the struggle we’ve had with Mondays and my attempts to salvage something from these days. We do only math on Mondays, meet together about the upcoming assignments for the week, and do read-alouds and projects for the rest of the day. For this project, they shaped the clay one Monday and painted it the next.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

None of the many fiascos I envisioned actually occurred, and I’m thinking I may even be brave enough to tackle Greek clay vases in another week or two. Homeschooling stretches us, doesn’t it? But I’m (usually) always glad I’ve taken the risk and been brave enough to try something new. Learning history through art and hands-on activities and fun read-alouds is exactly why I homeschool, at least one of my million or so reasons.

Incorporating Drawing into Learning

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into learning

When I first started homeschooling my kids, I began with the homeschool style I identified with best (classical). It wasn’t a bad start. At five years old, my son had not shown a clear learning style yet, and I didn’t know his strengths or weaknesses. I had to start with what I did know. But over the years, I’ve shifted my style slightly. We are still predominantly classical, but it’s not easy to have a hard-core classical, literature-rich homeschool with all the ADHD we have going on!

I’m learning that the key to making our homeschool method work well is working within my kids’ learning styles and strengths, adding activities that they enjoy or that keep them active. For instance, my son LOVES to draw, so I’m incorporating drawing into more of his homeschool. Drawing is more than just art. For both of my kids, drawing focuses their attention on the details that their active minds and bodies would otherwise not notice. Drawing slows my ADHD kiddos down enough to catch the details.

Because I’ve already mentioned how we’ve been using some drawing and sketching to help my daughter through some of her dyslexia struggles, I wanted to let you behind the scenes to see how my 5th grade son has been incorporating drawing into his subjects.

Incorporating Drawing into Science

We are putting together our own science curriculum this year with an encyclopedia we love and some experiment kits. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been covering sound, which had him learning about the ear and how it works. The encyclopedia we use had a cool diagram. While I knew I could find some free worksheet somewhere for him to label, I also knew—my son LOVES to draw.

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into science

So I had him draw the ear and label it. Honestly, I wasn’t positive how this would turn out when I first assigned it, and my son’s reaction was not instant enthusiasm. But once he started this project, he was eagerly asking for more. And he did an awesome job! Also, the attention to detail that the drawing required helped him to notice more than simply labeling an ear would have.

Okay, so this won’t work for just any boy. But because drawing is his strength, incorporating drawing in this way was a serious win for us.

Incorporating Drawing into Geography

There’s lots out there about drawing maps from scratch as a way to learn geography, but because he was already drawing an ear I wanted to change it up a bit. My mom got us a light table for Christmas, and it has been a huge hit. We use it for everything, except school. I hadn’t tried that yet. So when I suggested he used the light table to trace his map of ancient Phoenicia, he was stoked!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into geography

Have you heard how ADHD kids can hyper-focus and have a rough time breaking away from something they enjoy? Yes, my son was so tuned into this assignment that he finished the entire week’s map assignment in a single day (we didn’t get math or language finished, but you know— you win some, you lose some). Hyper-focused is understating it.

The next week, when I gave him his new map, he immediately asked if he could use the light table again. Of course, I defined some terms of use this time.

Incorporating Drawing into Writing

My son loves writing as much as he loves drawing. In his spare time, my son is writing novels. But he doesn’t just love to write. He loves to draw and illustrate. If I give him a writing assignment, he’s on board. And if I ask him to illustrate his paper, draw a comic strip, or create a map for the setting of the story—he’s ecstatic!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into writing

incorporating drawing | story writing | story settings

It’s hard to say if incorporating drawing into our homeschool is such a hit strictly because of their personalities or if it’s successful because it focuses some of that energy into a kinesthetic activity that helps them to slow down and pay attention to those tedious details. I honestly don’t care why or how it’s working, only that it is! And while I know not everyone’s kids love drawing in the same way my kids do, I’d love to encourage you to incorporate your child’s strengths (whatever they are) into your homeschool (whatever your homeschool style may be).

It’s not just about classical vs. delight-directed, it’s about using everything to our kid’s learning advantage.

Display Boards for whole family learning

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace

We’ve had so much fun with display boards recently that I just had to give you a peek at the action. As part of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, we’ve been learning about the cultures and people of ancient Palestine during the time of King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. I love doing as much of our learning together as we can, so I assigned both of the older kids this display board project for their writing assignment. Immediately, they were all on board.

Preparation for the Display Boards

My preparation, overall, wasn’t bad. I printed off the Teacher Notes from our curriculum and highlighted the portions for them to read through for the writing part of the assignment, picked some images to print from Google images, and picked up some display board supplies at our local supply store. Each child picked their board, including Littlest, my preschooler. He wanted in on the action, and I figured getting him his own poster board would keep him from “participating” in the other kids’ projects in ways they would not prefer.

Directions for the Display Boards

We chose four cultures that had the most information available: Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines, and Phoenicians. And I gave them 3 weeks to work on it.

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards

For my fifth grader, I assigned a paragraph for each culture. Other than providing his materials and showing him a few sample projects, I really did not do much more for him. He likes his independence.

For my third grader, I only required a couple of sentences for each culture. Because of her skill level and dyslexia, I helped her quite a bit more. I read the information to her rather than have her read it, and she used a new favorite app of ours to write her sentences. (Dyslexia Aid allows her to speak her sentence into the app, and it gives her the text for her to copy into her projects.)

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards

dyslexia app | dyslexia aids for writing

For my preschooler, I gave him permission to use any left-over photos the big kids were not using. He got his glue stick and scissors and went to town. I love it! The red scribbles are his map of Palestine.

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards | preschool

In Love with Display Boards

Seriously, we are in love with display boards, and I keep asking myself why I haven’t tried this sooner. My daughter has already asked about a hundred times if she can make another one. And it was an easy way to incorporate everyone at their own skill levels, interacting with the same information, which after all, is why I love Tapestry of Grace to begin with. I love whole family learning, and I love getting to put that learning on display.

DIY Science Curriculum for the classically inclined

DIY science curriculum | classical science | classical homeschooling | DIY homeschool curriculum

Of all the subjects, science has probably taken me the longest to find a curriculum that I really like. Over the last several years, we have tried a number of approaches for science.

  • We’ve learned science through lapbooks and creating mini-books.
  • We’ve done unit studies and read living books.
  • We’ve watched a whole lot of Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
  • We’ve dabbled in a few different curriculums: God’s Design, Christian Kids Explore, and Sassafras.

And while we’ve enjoyed different aspects of these, none have been even close to ideal. So, I did my own thing this year, with some inspiration and direction from the Well-Trained Mind. And just in case you are a DIY homeschooler, too, I’ve assembled a few steps for a DIY science curriculum.

4 Steps to a DIY science curriculum

Step 1: Find a core resource or encyclopedia

Any resource you love will work: Usborne, Kingfisher, DK, etc. I found the World of Science encyclopedia from Master Books and have absolutely loved it. World of Science is formatted similarly to an Usborne or DK encyclopedia, except that this resource is Christian. No millions of years or evolution to wade through, but rather the book begins with the idea of a Designer who had a thoughtful design and a creation that reflected His order. It’s colorful, interesting, easy to use, easy to follow, and includes some experiment ideas in the back of the book as a bonus. This particular book covers basic physics and chemistry topics. A companion encyclopedia World of Animals covers some simple biology and animal science.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | Master Books | World of Science

True to the classical homeschooling method, I assign a couple of pages a week for my fifth grader to read and outline. His outlines consist of Roman Numeral main points; he is learning to pick out the main ideas or topic sentences. Occasionally, I’ll require him to write a summary paragraph or copy a diagram. He also looks up new terms in the glossary at the back of the book and copies them for his notebook. He has loved using it as much as I have.

Step 2: Choose an experiment kit

Search Amazon or Homeschool Science Tools, Target, Wal-mart, Hobby Lobby, even local thrift stores. Choose an experiment kit that fits with the topic you are covering. For instance, when we learned about electricity, my son had a snap circuit kit we picked up from the thrift store; this term we are studying principles of physics and simple machines, so he is using a gears and levers kit. Later this year, we will begin some chemistry and try out a couple of chemistry experiment kits.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | experiment kits

Each week when his outline is complete, he is free to select an experiment from a kit that I’ve purchased to go with what we are studying. This is the “delight-directed” component of our science; he is free to pick an experiment from the kit that interests him. I know that these experiments are on topic, and he loves being able to choose his favorites. Then, after completing an experiment, he fills out an experiment form. We are using forms from notebookingpages.com, but there are tons of free printables online and on pinterest.

Step 3: (optional) Find science DVDs at the Library and on Netflix

As a fun bonus, I search for DVDs in our local library and on Netflix for the topics we are learning about. I’ve found that searching by specific topic has the best results; for instance, searching for gravity, light, force, motion, energy provides better results than searching for physics, geology, chemistry, etc. Some of these DVDs do contain evolutionary ideas (Bill Nye, for instance), but I’m okay with discussing that with my kids, especially since they’ve had an opportunity to begin studying from a Christian source. Use your own discretion.

You could also use the same strategy to search your library for additional reading on your topic if you prefer. Because of all the reading I assign in our other subject areas, I don’t choose to assign additional science reading. 

Step 4: Make a plan

Be as detailed as you need to be, but I love to keep it simple, personally. Below is a picture of my actual plans for this last term. I counted up the number of pages in the unit we wanted to cover and divided by our 12 week term. Since it wasn’t a perfect fit, we needed to outline more reading pages on certain weeks. On those weeks, I did not assign an experiment. Of course, he was welcome to do one after his assignments were complete, but it wasn’t required.

I did not assign specific experiments. You could easily do that by looking through your experiment booklet and comparing it to the topics of your encyclopedia. But for us, this is a great compromise. I provide some parameters (“you are going to learn this topic and use this kit”) and allow him the freedom to pursue his interest within those parameters.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | lesson plans | classical homeschooling | classical science

I printed off a bunch of experiment forms and placed them in his notebook. He can choose from several different styles to find a form that fits best with his particular experiment. Each week, I look over his outline and his experiment form (and he usually can’t wait to show me his actual experiment).

What about the youngers?

Middlest (3rd grade) and Littlest (preschool) usually join Oldest for the experiment demonstrations and videos; in a sense, he teaches the material to them. Middlest also fills out her own form.  I did pick up a Magic School Bus chemistry kit for our chemistry unit later this year so that she has some age-appropriate experiments. As she gets older and more skilled in her reading and writing, I’ll have her completing more assignments (reading/outlining). But for right now, I limit the amount of writing I require from her.

So far, I have loved our DIY science curriculum. The kids are learning a ton, are very independent, and are still able to incorporate a lot of hands-on experiments that don’t require my constant supervision. It’s been a win all around. For the first time in years, I feel good about science.

Hip Homeschool Moms

5 favorite activities for Christmas Break

fun activities for Christmas Break | Christmas crafts | Christmas bucket lists

Christmas Break is a must for me. And while some families I know study Christmas traditions around the world and do Christmas-themed unit studies and homeschool through much of the season, I love to take the entire month off. That’s right, the WHOLE MONTH! We break as soon after Thanksgiving as we can manage (after the last math lesson is completed in our 12 week cycle) and don’t start back until after New Year’s. There is just too much fun to cram it into a traditional two week break. So, I’ve compiled a list of our top 5 favorite activities for Christmas break.

Our Favorite Activities for Christmas Break:

1. Crafts and Homemade Gifts

My kids love to craft, and I love to emphasize homemade gifts. But those kinds of projects take lots of time. Taking the month off allows us to use that extra time to make scarfs and paracord bracelets and homemade ornaments and carved soaps and other sentimental treasures. Some years, we’ve made gifts for the widows in our church. Other years we’ve made gifts for grandparents and great-grandparents. This year, my kids worked hard on homemade gifts for the kids in their class at our local charter school. Whatever the project, I’ve found it helps to combat some of the natural self-focus of the season; instead of constantly anticipating what will be under the tree for them, their hands and minds are busy with gifts for others.fun activities for Christmas break | crafts | homemade gifts

2. Baking and Baking and…Baking

While all my kids look forward to Christmas goodies, my youngest counts down the days till the next batch of Christmas cookies. He is talking about those cookies in March, July, and October. It’s a long time till Christmas. Baking (and eating) at Christmas time is his absolute favorite. But baking is also a huge part of my day to day. Because of our dietary issues, I bake a loaf of bread everyday and many times I will also bake fresh rolls or buns or muffins or something. We cannot purchase any pre-made baked goods. So cakes, cookies, pies, you name it—all come from my kitchen. Which means that come holiday-time, I have a lot of extra baking on my agenda. And that takes time.

While I do limit how much we attempt to do and only prepare a couple of fun extras for each holiday, it still takes time. Taking the month off allows for those homemade Christmas cookies to get made while not adding too much pressure to the season. (Here’s my favorite sugar cookie recipe; I substitute Spectrum palm shortening for the butter to make it dairy free, too. Yumm!)

Christmas baking | fun activities for Christmas break

3. Reading Challenge

I keep my kids very busy with assigned reading during the school year, so one of the highlights to every break is the opportunity to read whatever they want. Our first library trip of every break is quite the event, with each kid nearly exploding with excitement before hand and eerily silent after the trip (as they eagerly devour Magic Tree House, Hardy boys, and other favorites). This year, our charter school also has a fun reading challenge.

reading log for Christmas break | Christmas break reading challenge

Winter Break Reading Marshmallow Challenge

As the kids complete each reading challenge (read under the table, read by the fire, read to a stuffed animal, read in a mirror, read to a grandparent, etc.) they cut and paste the marshmallow into the cup of cocoa. So cute and fun that I actually googled the link so that you could download the form and do it, too!

4. Bucket Lists

This year, I had my older kids make a bucket list of things they wanted to do with their time off. We strictly limit screen time activities, but even so, I didn’t have to give many restrictions. The kids came up with tons of fun activities, some we will be able to do and some that are a little out of our control: having a famous music artist to the house for the holidays or playing in snow. But a lot of the ideas gave me a very good idea of what the kids really wanted to do with me, so that I could be sure I was available for those things. My daughter wants to paint with me some time during our break; my oldest wants to learn some hand-lettering with a calligraphy pen. 

5. Parties, Friends, and Play Dates

My extroverted crowd loves to gather with friends.  As an introvert, I can get really burnt out during this season if I don’t pace myself. But having the whole month off has helped me a ton and allows me the time I need to recharge between activities. Play dates with friends we haven’t seen in awhile, church Christmas parties and special services, birthday parties (we seem to know quite a few people with December birthdays)—they love these interactions and need them, and I want to be a part of it all with them, without feeling stressed about food prep, lesson plans, and crafting deadlines.

Last year, we weren’t able to take our month off, and I felt it. By January, I had promised myself—never again! I will always make a priority when I schedule my homeschool year to keep the month of December free. There are just too many memories to make this time of year, and I want to enjoy them all.

Preschool Curriculum for Homeschool: a plan for playful learning

Preschool Curriculum | homeschool preschool

It feels as though my Littlest should still be pulling tupperware out of my kitchen cabinets and beating on pots and pans while the olders do school. (Although I’m not entirely sure he won’t be doing exactly that. Ahem.) But the baby of the family is feeling the urge to grow up. He’s begging to do school with his brother and sister, wanting his own lessons and supplies, and pretending to read whenever he can. I’ve let him set the pace and started with some preschool activities.

Still, this year will be focused mostly on playful learning, putting learning in front of him in a lot of different forms of play and seeing how motivated he is. My preschool learning goals for him are very fluid: learn to count and recognize numbers as high as he can; learn the alphabet and sounds; love to learn!

So my preschool plans and resources come with this disclaimer: we may or may not use everything and/or finish our books. And I’m okay with that. When he’s ready, he will take off. But right now, he needs to play. And I’m always so surprised by what a preschooler can learn when you least expect it. They are “ninja” learners. 

Our pace for preschool is very relaxed; we get out the activities when he asks to do them. Usually, he chooses at least one activity everyday, and we get through all of our preschool lessons about 2-3 days out of the week, which is plenty! I’m not planning on starting the Foundations textbook until January, and even then, I’m taking it very slowly. Whatever we have left, we will finish next year along with the level B book for kindergarten.

I really do love this stage, where “school” is playful and fun and creative and colorful. I’ll miss these days. I may just have to pre-homeschool someone else’s kid when mine have outgrown all this. I’ll need the excuse to keep playing with counting bears.