Tuesday, January 22, 2008

National Spelling Bee...Spelling with a Purpose

My children used to find spelling b-o-r-i-n-g! What to do? I have to admit, I always thought spelling was boring too! The words were too easy! Then spelling bees came into my life. What fun! In 7th and 8th grades, I won the school spelling bees and got to compete in downtown San Antonio. Sadly, I never won for the city; I never made it to Washington DC.

 Even though my kids were easily excited about competition, we could never find the time to study. A couple of years ago I started rethinking our boxed curriculum to make a move to classical education. My children seemed to have hit a wall and needed a new boost. Making a huge decision, we have abandoned traditional spelling programs and began studying exclusively for the spelling bee. Now we are studying classically in spelling, as well as in all of our other subjects. Not only has this been more beneficial, it was more exciting to my children as well. 

Our study list comes from the National Spelling Bee.

As soon as the list comes out early each autumn, we order the study booklets. We have done this various ways. Right now they work at their own speed. We set aside about 5-15 minutes a day for spelling. They choose their category and I quiz them until they miss 10. 

I’ve heard somewhere that most kids suffer in spelling because they tend to look at the whole word, when they should be seeing it sequentially. I have told my kids to write the word 5x each (kinesthetic) while spelling it out loud (auditory) so they can see what they are doing (visual). They can also write the words in shaving cream or a sandbox, for texture input. (This in fact, is how I taught my daughter to read.) Their preference is to use the pen and paper route, probably because that texture stuff really bothers them.

The National Spelling Bee booklist has changed dramatically since I was my children’s ages. When I was a student, we got booklets with scores of words divided into three sections: beginning, intermediate and advanced. When my children started competing, the name of the book was Padeia and there were categories that would link well with unit studies. Within each category, the words were divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced. All that changed, to our initial dismay, last year. However, after studying in the new way we came to like it even more because it is more classically based...and we learned more!

The booklet was still divided into categories, but now they were by Language of Origin. Although the expected origins included Greek and Latin, there were others like...German, Spanish and French! Within each language of origin, the words were divided into the main list and the challenge words. There were also tips and game-like quizzes to go a higher level in applying the logic of language of origin.

This year there was yet another change. I no longer need to mail order a booklet. We can now get them online and they are linked to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (Love Noah Webster! Reading a biography on him is a great classical connection to the spellling bee!) One of the values of using the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary is that you can click an audio byte for the proper pronunciation of these words. Many of the spelling bee words are difficult to pronounce, precisely because they come from other languages, so they don't follow standard English phonetic patterns.

We now prefer this new organizational method, by Language of Origin, because spelling rules finally make sense! Each particular language has its own particular rules. That is why the basic rules, which are the same as basic phonics rules, rarely work. The basic rules for words we learn to read first usually have their origin in the English language in the Middle Ages which was agrarian based. When words from other languages came into the English language, of course those words will follow different spelling patterns. For example, English is heavy in French words because of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. 

As a result, we now find that the dictionary is interesting. In fact, dictionaries are fascinating history books that take one on a classical journey. No wonder! The American dictionary was first written by Noah Webster, who knew his Greek and Latin...and consulted other languages as well. Whenever a particular word stumps us we look it up.  Instead of merely reading the definition, we also look at the origin of the word.  We are often surprised and delighted at how much more we'll learn about the word! 

As a result, we now have a logical means of organizing our spelling notebooks. We have a tab for each language of origin:

After printing out the word lists and study tips, we stick them behind the appropriate category. If we ever want to add more words, we can easily add them into the proper category.

By the way, today was our local homeschool spelling bee. My 12 year old son tied for 6th

 and my daughter placed 5th. (Her picture came out blurry.) Competition has accomplished more than making spelling interesting for them. They are also learning composure in front of an audience as well as good sportsmanship. And who’s to know…maybe someday there will be a trip to Washington, D.C.!

Update (3-7-17) My kids have Sensory Integration Disorder which caused various learning delays. My son had more texture issues and my daughter had mostly motor planning issues. My kids are now in college. There are a lot of things I'd do differently, but if I had it to do again, I'd have done the Spelling Bee, exactly how I wrote this post, EARLIER!!! It made that much of a difference. I must also add, that time is  important too. I didn't see success overnight, but over time. Sometimes we get so caught up in seeing a change right now, when instead we are planting seeds that we need to nourish through the seasons of life. In due time, the fruit will come...if we are faithful to lead, guide and mentor. 😊

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And the Winner of the Local Geography Bee Is...

Isn't the medal lovely?  

Here's the proof it was recently won at the local level...

My fourteen year old daughter won THIRD place!

My twelve year old son won FIRST place!

After the competition ds took a seventy question test that gets mailed in to the National Geography Bee in Washington DC. The top 100 in Texas will be notified in March, that they get to compete at the State level in April in order to choose finalists for the National Geography Bee in Washington DC in May!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Quilts-From Winnie the Pooh to Rockets, Trucks and Trains Too!

(I have no nieces, but one nephew who is 18 months old.  Before he was born, my brother and his wife had chosen Winnie the Pooh and yellow and green for the theme and colors, since they did not know who they were having until he arrived!  So before he was born, I found some soft yellow Pooh fabric which was tone on tone.  I got a yard for the front.  Then I got 1 yard of white minkee for the back.  Of course minkee will make anyone say, "Wow!"  It was the hit of the baby shower and my nephew has used it well since he was born.  I figured by 18 months, he'd be ready for a new blanket!

When I was at a quilt show a few months ago, I saw these kits. 

It looked easy and very boyish...all vehicles!  Also, there was some of that wonderful minkee to put on the back!  Here's everything laid out that was in the bag...

Then I got to work rotary cutting.  I laid all my fat quarter piles at the top.  I had to cut each fat quarter into various sized squares and rectangles.

It was easy to lose place of which shape I was cutting in the directions, so I got a lime green sticky to help me keep track of all the sizes I had to cut.

Then I had trouble keeping track of my various sized shapes.  So I cut up an index card and labeled each with the dimensions, to keep track of my piles of cut pieces.

Once I got them all cut out, the fun began! I got to mix and match patterns while I assembled the blocks.  Then I sewed the blocks together into rows.  Then I sewed the rows together.  After that I laid the right side of the quilt on top of the right side of the minkee and sewed around leaving an opening to flip it out.  After turning it inside out, I hand sewed the opening closed. Then I got the blue DMC floss to tie off the quilt.  And here are the results...

My nephew is not too sure of anyone but his parents and my mom...who takes care of him.  sniff, sniff  So I thought this would be a great way to worm my way into his heart! =)  This was his Christmas gift, but when I gave it to him, he was distracted by everything else.  Not surprised!  I've had kids that age! The other day Mom called to tell me that he loves his quilt!  I said I suspected once he got bored he might notice it! (He gets into *everything* and that's how he spent Christmas Day, getting into *everything* at my mom's house!)  She said he always insists on taking that blanket to bed every night!  =)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Nature Journals: Hope

Here are the latest entries from our nature journals.  We forced an amaryllis bulb indoors.  Here is my amaryllis.  I struggled with this.

My sketch of the bulb now...

12yds closeup sketch of various seeds, including the bulb in the top right corner...

His title...

14yod's sketch from yesterday...

14yod's sketch from today...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Our First Nature Journal

The idea of nature journals has always appealed to me.  I purchased one in the form of a weekly calendar a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. Despite homeschooling for 10 years, I have only recently purchased The Charlotte Mason Companion. My kids have always enjoyed being outdoors collecting various assortments of seeds and seed pods, opening them and scattering them to the wind.  They enjoy collecting my flowers,  enjoying their colors and scents.  They even enjoy moving my rocks from the dry creek bed I made under the dripping roofline to various corners of the yard!  They thrill to find a colorful bird and try to imitate its song.  However, the idea of sitting down with a sketch pad and pencil in the great out of doors has never been an enthusiastic prospect for my kids. 

Finally the day came to nudge them in the historic activity.  We have been studying the Renaissance and they will be doing research reports on Leonardo da Vinci, who as a boy, made nature journals.  To their quiet dismay, I decided that their major art project for this history unit should be nature journaling.  Today was the day!  Gloomily, yet without complaining, they listened to me exult the virtues of the art!  I showed them beautiful examples from my old desk calendar, which also includes a bit of journaling.  

In preparation, we put bird seed out for the birds.  While we waited for the birds to arrive, they asked me to do a journal too! My daughter and I started sketching the pointsettia in the kitchen while my son sat outside and sketched the plum bushes in front of the shed.  

Our cat was fascinated to find us in unusual places, dd and I at the kitchen table, the pointsettia on the floor and ds outside at the porch table.  She kept looking out the window in perplexity.  I wish I had my camera handy! 

While sketching the pointsettia, dd noticed I did a few unique things.  I am not an artist, but I showed her how to sketch a 3D pot, why I shaded (light and shadow,) and how to combine colors. (Disclaimer:  I know my technique needs lots of practice.  I believe that the learning comes from the doing.) We also talked about perspective and texture.  When she first started sketching the flower, it was right in front of her on the table, where the bracts were parallel with her eyes and she really couldn't see anything.  So I put it on the floor so we could see the tops of the bracts.  

Here is 14yod picture...

Here is my picture...

Meanwhile she commented that she either heard a bird or her brother.  My son quietly opened the door to tell us he had been watching a cardinal fly from one of our trees to the other.  In all, he saw 2 cardinals and 1 goldfinch.  

This was a peaceful time that seemed to be quite positive.  DS is finishing some final details on his sketch now.  I asked him if he had a good time sketching today.  "Oh yes!" he exclaimed.  I smiled and said he didn't seem so excited when he started and he smiled and said, "Oh no."  Here is his page. I am flabbergasted!  He has always been quite the artist and it's a shame that it's difficult to see the soft colors.  But they are lovely and have an impressionistic touch.  But the words get me.  I have never seen him attempt poetry before. I didn't even ask him to do the poetry.  All the writng is his idea.  See the cardinal in the tree?  He darkened it for the photo.

Close up of the latticework in front of the shed..

Close up of the poetry...

I asked my daughter how she enjoyed it and she smiled and said she really enjoyed the nature journaling too!  I think some new nature journalists were created today!

Updated 8-25-11
Last winter I purchased an old EFT video from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center Bookstore about Mark Catesby. He was a famous naturalist from the early 18th century in colonial Virginia. At this link are some of his prints of flora and fauna, at the Colonial Williamsburg website, with teaching ideas!  My kids will like this!