A Year in the Life June- Documentary Photography at the Pet Store

Once again I completely forgot to post my A Year in the Life pictures from last month. As usual the littlest ones were the stars of the show! I must admit right around 1.5 is my favorite age. Learning to walk and talk, but not quite into the temper tantrum stage yet. Even with a new baby around Wally once again was the main subject of my camera lens this month.  DSC06481   DSC06493 DSC06496

The best shot of the month is this one of Wally with Hannah. Wally is absolutely IN LOVE with his sock monkey. He is also over the moon for his new baby sister. When Grandma sent Hannah a sock monkey outfit I knew I needed a picture of him holding the both of them. As you can see Hannah wasn’t too fond of the idea. Wally was unperturbed. He just shoved that paci in her mouth, positive that losing it was the only reason she was sad. Poor girl didn’t stop crying till mommy rescued her, after getting the picture first of course lol. DSC06491

The older kids managed to sneak into a few pictures by holding the very photogenic new baby. Maddy especially loves to help take care of Hannah. I have  feeling these two are going to be best buds.

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Ben likes to love on her too, but not quite as much as Maddy. He gets bored pretty fast adn is ready to pass her on.

One fun thing I did this month was take the camera with me when we went to the pet store. I’ve always been a little too self conscious to bust out the camera in an unusual spot like that before. This time I just went for it. I had a TON of fun. I love that I was able to capture so much of my kids personalities in an everyday situation. I even remembered to hand the camera off to the hubs and get in the pictures myself!

Would you like to preserve these types of memories as well? I can teach you how. Stay tuned for my workshop announcement, coming soon! If you’d like to hire me for a documentary session please contact me for more details and to schedule your date.

Elenco Snap Circuit Kit- The Best Science Toy We’ve Ever Owned

I can not say enough good things about the Elenco Snap Circuit set that we own. I bought it as a birthday gift for my oldest son when he was eleven and it fast became one of his favorite toys. He could play with it for hours. It has now been passed on to the younger kids and they can’t get enough of it either. Everyone enjoys the set, but Ben (age 7) is the one that really loves it.

Elenco Snap Circuits review| SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling | Unschooling | Science | Electronics

What’s in the Box?

Elenco has several different Snap Circuit sets and each one has different parts. There are a few basics that are in every box. There is a base plate to build on, circuit pieces of varying lengths and sizes, and special pieces that do different things such as light up or make noise. Right now we have the SC-300 Discovery Kit. It has over 60 parts and an instruction booklet containing over 300 projects that can be built. So far both Ben’s and Corey’s favorite thing to build was the radio.

Elenco Snap Circuits review| SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling | Unschooling | Science | Electronics

Why are Snap Circuits so Awesome?

The best part of the Snap Circuits toy is the snapping mechanism. The snaps work just like the ones found on clothing and are easy for even the smallest kids to assemble without any pinched fingers. The circuits are contained within the plastic pieces that snap together with the metal snaps allowing them to conduct electricity. The set can then be run on battery power or plugged in with the optional Snap Circuits Battery Eliminator. Each set has hundreds of different configurations that can be built from the instructions, and kids can also create their own once they understand the principles. Another great thing about Snap Circuits as that they are very sturdy. Officially only kids who are able to read are allowed to play with them in our house. Of course this hasn’t stopped the littler ones from snatching pieces or touching when older kids are using them. After 4 years of use and having been packed up and moved 3 times we have never had a single piece break.

Elenco Snap Circuits review| SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling | Unschooling | Science | Electronics

Are there any downsides?

Of course no product is perfect and just like everything else Snap Circuits do have a few disadvantages. First off only one project can be built at a time. Many of the projects require you to use most of the parts in the box so it is pretty much impossible to build more than one circuit at time. Plus each kit has only one power source, so even if you could build two circuits you wouldn’t be able to power both of them. Second if your child can not read the instructions then it takes quite a bit of hands on help form a parent or older sibling. This isn’t’ as big of a deal for most families, but in a large family like ours I really like to have things that kids can work on independently when needed. This isn’t an issue with the older kids of course, hence our rule that you have to be able to read to get out the Snap Circuits.

Elenco Snap Circuits review| SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling | Unschooling | Science | Electronics

The Snap Circuit Kits

As I said above we have the Snap Circuit SC-300 Discovery Kit. They also have two smaller kits (SC-100 and beginner) as well as two that are larger (SC-500 and SC-750). In addition to the basic discovery kits Elenco has come out with several new specialized kits since we purchased the basic kit four years ago. Here are the ones that are at the top of my wish list for expanding our collection.

Should You Invest in Snap Circuits?

Of course every child and family is different, but if you’re asking me my answer is a resounding YES! If you have a child that is even slightly interested in the science of electricity they will love Snap Circuits. If you’re lucky you’ll get 6 hours straight of independent play from this toy like I have!

Elenco Snap Circuits review| SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling | Unschooling | Science | Electronics

Do you have any of the Snap Circuit sets on my wish list? I’d love to hear your opinion of them to help me choose which ones to buy first! Do you have any other similar toys such as circuit scribe or littleBits? I would love to hear your reviews on those as well!

Using a Parent-Child Journal to Create Connections With Your Kids

Using a Parent-Child journal to increase communication and more | SmithSquad.com | Handwriting and Cursive | Language, Spelling, and Grammar | Reading ComprehensionSeveral months ago I read about using a parent-child journal to communicate with your kids. I thought it was an excellent idea, and immediately started one with my oldest child (the only one that was reading and writing at the time). It has been a BIG hit. She loves writing back and forth with me and dad. She usually responds within a day, if not a few hours, and is good at holding us accountable for responding promptly as well.

What is a Parent-Child Journal?

Using a Parent-Child journal to increase communication and more | SmithSquad.com | Handwriting and Cursive | Language, Spelling, and Grammar | Reading Comprehension

A parent-child journal is simply a notebook where we can write to each other. We bought a plain composition notebook, and started with writing our daughter a letter about how much we loved her that pointed out several of her strengths, and things that she did that we appreciated. I told her that she could write back anything she wanted. She could draw a picture, ask a question or tell a story. It didn’t matter, she could say anything she wanted. After one of us writes in the journal we place it on the pillow of the other person so that they can read it and respond. There are so many benefits! It is an opportunity to work on reading comprehension, spelling and grammar, handwriting, and increasing communication. We’ve even started learning/teaching cursive.

Reading Comprehension

Using a Parent-Child journal to increase communication and more | SmithSquad.com | Handwriting and Cursive | Language, Spelling, and Grammar | Reading Comprehension

As adults we usually write far more to our eight year old daughter than she writes to us. It’s a great opportunity for me to use words that she may not know or tell a story about myself as a child. This gives her a chance to expand her vocabulary and practice her reading comprehension. I often will ask her a question at the end of what I write to gently test that comprehension. I’ve also let her know that she can always bring the journal to me to ask about anything she doesn’t understand or look up a word while reading.

Spelling and Grammar

The journal should be a fun activity with no pressure, so I NEVER correct her spelling and grammar. I do, however, pay attention to the mistakes she makes. This allows me to identify gaps in her knowledge of grammar or specific spelling rules she may be struggling with. I can then incorporate these things into our lessons at a later time. Every now and then I can ask her a question designed to get a specific answer to test whether that rule is still a problem.

Handwriting and Cursive Instruction

Using a Parent-Child journal to increase communication and more | SmithSquad.com | Handwriting and Cursive | Language, Spelling, and Grammar | Reading Comprehension

The journal is a great way to get in handwriting practice. It is a fun activity, rather than a chore, and she doesn’t even realize I’m making her work! If her handwriting gets too sloppy I simply bring her the journal and say “I’m sorry sweetie, but I can’t tell what you wrote here.” She tells me and I write it in next to the word “so I won’t forget”. That’s it. I don’t say anything that will put pressure on her to write better, as stated before this is supposed to be a fun, no pressure activity. She will inevitably try to write neater on the next exchange, because she doesn’t want me to have to ask her what her words say. When she expressed an interest in learning cursive I began writing to her in cursive. She is now getting practice at reading cursive. She has to ask me what certain words are occasionally, but her comprehension is quickly improving. We practice her own cursive writing outside of the journal and she can choose to use it in the journal when she is ready.

Creating Connection and Increasing Communication

At 8 years and younger communication isn’t much of a problem, yet. Our kids are pretty much an open book. As they age, however kids start to have problems, questions, and concerns that maybe they don’t know how to talk about with their parents. This journal gives them an opportunity to bring up those issues in a safe environment. As parents is gives us the chance to pray, discuss and plan how to respond to these problems and questions they will have. It is also a place where we can introduce topics of conversation to our child. For example at age 8 she is ready to start learning about menstruation and how puberty will affect her body. I can introduce the topic through the journal so that when we sit down to have the talk it isn’t uncomfortable or awkward, it’s just an extension of a topic that has already been discussed. As my children get older I hope they will use it to ask me questions about their religious beliefs, relationships with friends, sexual purity, and anything else that is on their mind. This is why it is so important to keep the journal a safe and fun activity when kids are young. As they age they need to know that it is not a place for judgment, it is a place for open communication.

Have you ever used a parent-child journal? In what other ways do you encourage open communication with your children?

Sheep to Shawl Festival- A Sheep Shearing Demonstration

Face Painting | SmithSquad.com | Sheep to Shawl Festival | Ladies Homestead Gathering of Statham

On Saturday we attended the “Sheep to Shawl” Festival hosted by the Ladies Homestead Gathering of Statham, Georgia. It was a ton of fun! When we got there we headed to the kids area where we got to make bubble wands out of pipe cleaners and rings out of wire and beads. They also had some fun games set up, like rope the rocking horse, some baby animals in pens that the kids could feed and a photo booth with a VERY fluffy bunny.

pipe cleaner bubble wands | SmithSquad.com | Sheep to Shawl Festival | Ladies Homestead Gathering of Statham

 

pipe cleaner bubble wands | SmithSquad.com | Sheep to Shawl Festival | Ladies Homestead Gathering of StathamThey also had several people demonstrating different skills such as blacksmithing, pottery making, and wool spinning. The highlight of the day was the live sheep shearing demonstration. We learned a ton about sheep from the presenter as we watched the sheep getting sheared. For example I didn’t know that sheep were born with long tails that had to be docked for cleanliness reasons. We also learned a lot about different kinds of wool and what they were used for. It was a very interesting and educational experience.

Sheep Shearing | SmithSquad.com | Sheep to Shawl Festival | Ladies Homestead Gathering of Statham

When the sheep shearing was done we went to check out the vendor booths. There were several people selling some great homemade items such as herb tinctures, teas from home grown herbs, pottery, wind chimes, and much more. We had some delicious granola and Cameron got some herbal tea to help clear out some congestion he’s had. Overall it was an awesome day and I can’t wait till they do it again next year.

Taking a break | SmithSquad.com | Sheep to Shawl Festival | Ladies Homestead Gathering of Statham

Time to Plant a Garden

I’ve been wanting to plant a garden for a few years now, but never quite got past the talking about it phase. We’ve had gardens in the past, but they were always planned, planted and cared for by Cameron (Dad). He hasn’t had the time lately, so it’s up to me! I talked about wanting to do this with another homeschooled family. They are renting their house, and putting in a garden would take a LOT of work as they would have to clear out a grassy area to do it. Cyndy (mom of their family) has a lot more knowledge of gardening than I do as well. We decided that they would come over to our house and we would plant one together.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Wally insisted on wearing a pair of gardening gloves, then used them to slap Abbe in the face.

About 3 years ago Cameron cut down and burned a huge pile of branches. The mound has been sitting in the yard ever since collecting debris, worms, bugs and all sort of natural material. About 6-8 months ago he covered this pile in a layer of mulch and then a layer of cardboard. The dirt in this pile is now rich, black, and perfect for a garden! We didn’t’ want to interfere with the natural ecosystem that has formed on this hill, so we just planted right into it.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
One thing I love about homeschooling is the opportunity for older and younger children to work together and build relationships. Jack just ADORES his Gillian!

Cyndy and I both really like the principles taught in the book “Square Foot Gardening“. With such an irregular shaped plot of land to plant on, however, it wasn’t really doable to measure out precise squares. We used many of the principles of how to plant things, but did it in a more freeform layout.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Boris will be losing one of his favorite sunning spots. Sorry buddy.

In case you were wondering 36 weeks pregnant is NOT a great time to be squatting and planting, especially on a hill with slightly precarious footing. Cyndy took charge of most of the educating and planting while I hovered and took pictures.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Discussing the purpose of mulch

First Cyndy talked to all the kids about mulch and what it did for the ground. We told them how we were going to clear away just enough to get to the dirt, then once we saw sprouts coming up we would put the mulch back down around them. This would help to keep moisture in the ground and stop weeds from growing in the soil around the plant.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Reading a seed packet

She then taught them how to read the seed packets and figure out how close together seeds should be as well as how deep to plant them. They then each measured their fingers so they could learn to feel how deep 1″ or 2″ was.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Leah chose to plant carrots

Now it was time to get planting! Each child had chosen a packet of seeds from the stash I’ve had in the freezer for a few years now. The plan was that each of them would plant their selection. It didn’t quite work out that way as many of the smaller ones had reached their attention span limit and wandered off. This was ok, learning is fun and if they were bored they weren’t learning anyway. Plus it was a bit easier to work with less little feet climbing all over the hill.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Is this a good rock?

The kids and Cyndy worked together to carefully scrape away the mulch and plant the seeds. We planted corn, squash, melons, carrots, lettuces and more. We had a few seeds that needed to be started indoors, then transplanted. We cleared away spots for each of those plants and had the kids find some medium-sized rocks to place in them. This way we know exactly where they go in our plan and we wouldn’t accidentally over plant and not leave room.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Our broken blind plant markers written by Maddy

Maddy (8) took charge of making the markers for each plant. We used the slats from a set of broken blinds. They should stand up to the weather great and are nice and visible.

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
We found a worm!

I’m excited to see how our garden turns out! If nothing else I’m sure we’ll learn things that we can apply to net year when the area that has been mulched and covered in cardboard is even larger!

Plant a garden | SmithSquad.com | Homeschooling math and science | Family Work | Square Foot gradening
Rachel decided she needed to take a break and just supervise, what better place to do so than Sam’s lap?

Did you plant a garden this year? What did you plant? What methods do you use? Do your kids help? I’d love to hear all about it. If you have a blog about it please share in the comments so we can read and follow your journey too!

 

Hooked on Phonics- Online Program

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A little over a year ago I was blessed to be told about a one day promotion on Hooked on Phonics in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Day. All teachers, including homeschoolers, could get the full app for free! Of course I took advantage. We have absolutely loved it! Two of my kids are reading well after using it and another two are currently learning with it. Even the almost 3-year-old loves to play the games and is beginning to recognize sounds and letters.

Hooked on Phonics digital program|smithsquad.com|learning to read|homeschool|unschool
Reading while waiting at the Midwife’s for mommy to have her appointment

The Hooked on Phonics digital program is on Educents for only $29.99. We have two kids who have learned to read, and two more working on it, using the Hooked on Phonics on our iPad. It is WELL worth the full $49.99 price tag IMO so this price is awesome. I have no idea how long this deal will last, but I’m going to be buying it. When I got it for free it was via iTunes so I can only use it on the iPad. Now I will be able to use it on the computer and Kindles as well! They also have all sorts of other hooked on Phonics programs at the best prices I’ve ever seen.

The Hooked on Phonics program includes interactive games, entertaining videos and books to read. Each level has a mixture of the three to help kids fully understand a specific letter and sound grouping. One of our favorites is the Big Pig song.

Hooked on Phonics paired with Life of Fred Beginning readers and tons of reading with mommy has worked very well for our kids learning to read.

What reading curriculum do you use? Do you have any tips for maximizing the Hooked on Phonics program?

 

Building a Dam- Unschool Physics and Geometry

A few days ago the kids were helping Dad was a friends truck. While dad was doing the final details and rinsing the kids were having a blast playing in the water run-off.  Ben, our 6 year old engineer, noticed that the water flow patterns changed when they were standing in the “river”. He decided that a dam was required. First he made one with his feet. Realizing that this meant he had to stand still he began the search for alternate damming methods.

First he tried a small stick. It kept washing away. He thought for a minute then decided that if he put the stick in the crack of the sidewalk to anchor it then it wouldn’t wash away. That worked, but it didn’t really dam very much water. “I need a lake!”

He then began experimenting with other materials.

unschool physics|geometry|math|science|homeschool|roadschool

First he tried using the lid to a treasure chest. It was curved, the sidewalk was not. The water went right under, and that idea was quickly discarded. He discovered that fatter sticks held back more water, but then the water quickly built up and went around. After trying a few different sticks that were not flat he finally hit on the perfect solution. He lined up several fat sticks to make a nice long dam that held plenty of water.

This was a great opportunity for an unschool physics lesson. We were able to talk about why the water flowed the direction it did, why the force of the water moved the little stick, and even a little bit about how real dams provide us with energy. We also mixed in a little geometry talking about curved vs. flat shapes, size comparisons, as well as explaining that a stick was a cylinder.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn all around you. You just have to look for them!

What opportunities did you take to teach your kids something new today?