Friday, April 15, 2011

Using Manipulatives in Math Curriculum

Most homeschool math curriculum is in the form of textbooks or workbooks, which doesn’t give kids much experience with hands-on math skills. Even if you do an online math program, the images on the screen are still two dimensional. Some children learn great that way, but kinesthetic or “hands-on” learners can really benefit from math manipulatives.

Manipulatives are things like base-ten blocks to learn about decimals, or a pretend pizza pie to teach about fractional parts, or a toy clock with moveable hands for learning to tell time. Real objects that can be touched, counted, or moved can really help reinforce the lesson. Even something like a thermometer is easier for some kids to understand if they can hold it and look at it up close, rather than seeing pictures of one.

Interactive games are sometimes helpful, especially online, but there's nothing like holding something in your hand to help you understand it. A great example of this is the quasi-holiday of the 100th Day of School, widely celebrated in elementary classrooms everywhere. It's fun for kids, but also a great learning tool. One of the more popular activities is for each child to collect 100 items, such as pennies, bits of cereal or candy, sunflower seeds, etc. Seeing, feeling, and touching the number 100 in this way really drives home the concept.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Homeschool Science Fairs

We all remember the dreaded science fair projects from our own childhood, right? But for most of us, the science fair was part of a traditional public school experience. How can we give our kids a science fair experience they’ll enjoy and learn from, if they’re homeschoolers?

Many homeschool support groups put together small science fairs for their members. Some of the larger groups have quite elaborate programs, with judges and prizes for the winners. Sometimes state homeschooling organizations will put together something similar. It can’t hurt to ask around and see if other homeschoolers you know have some leads. If not, consider starting your own!

However, a science fair project doesn’t need to be in show-ready condition to be a great learning experience. Less focus on competition and more on learning is certainly a viable alternative. The point is that homeschooled kids can learn about science and the scientific method without all the fuss and showiness of a big display. For the younger ages, easier is often better.

Some simple ideas include growing vegetables from seed and varying the amount of water, or light, or perhaps the temperature, and learning what effects this has on plant growth. This is easy enough to do in the family’s backyard garden! You could also design a new invention, a favorite with elementary kids, like building a robot from Legos that can push on a domino to start a chain reaction. Just be sure to find a variable to test, like measuring how hard the robot has to push, or testing to see which size legos to use, etc. Kids love this kind of stuff, and with a little gentle guidance, a science experiment is born!

Be sure they learn how to record their methods and data, because the mark of a successful experiment is when another scientist can come along and repeat your work with the same results. Even if you don’t participate in a science fair, the work itself is valuable as a learning experience.