Magic School Bus Gets Ants in its Pants

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I designed this year’s science curriculum around Magic School Bus books and videos. We are beginning our school year this summer with insects. The first book/episode I chose is Gets Ants in its Pants, a book about Ms. Frizzle and the kids visiting an ant hill colony.

The lesson plan was designed for us to use our class time doing hands on activities together, followed by reading library books about insects and ants during their silent sustained reading time two days a week. I checkout out a small stack of books on ants and insects from our local library to fit the reading levels of my 1st, 4th and 5th grader. We are using our SSR time to read non-fiction books about whatever we are studying in science and history that week.

After we viewed the Magic School Bus episode, we filled out a KWL graphic organizer about ants and used a mason jar and some ants from the backyard to make our own ant farm, an activity from the Scholastic website. IMG_7748.JPGWe topped the jar with aluminum foil and wrapped it in black paper, however I did not trust the ants to stay in their new habitat, so the jar was left outside. IMG_7747.JPGSure enough, even though they were provided with multiple sugar water soaked cotton balls and bread with honey, the ants had been coming and going through the holes in the foil. When we checked the ants daily to provide more water and make observations, there were still plenty of ants swarming around in the jar, and two trails of ants coming and going from the jar, across our patio, out into the yard. I was concerned the foil was keeping too much heat in the jar (it IS July afterall), so we replaced it with a piece of stockings. They chewed holes in the stockings to allow traffic to resume. We got a huge kick out this. Of course, the ants were released as soon as we completed our observations.

I also included the Invent an Insect activity from California Academy of Sciences. The kids already knew the parts of an insect, but it was a great review. We had a lot of fun looking at adaptations of other insects in two large insect encyclopedias I found at our local library: Super Bug Encyclopedia and Ultimate Bug-opedia. Then the kids drew a card that described a habitat, food source, and predators. They designed insects with adaptations to survive in their habitat and presented their designs. I really enjoyed how this activity went beyond basic insect anatomy to increase their awareness of the effect of different adaptations of organisms and their ability to survive in their environment. This gave us a chance to introduce food chains, and how populations of organisms change over time as the environment changes, topics of future units.



Kicking off the 2017-2018 year

Two weeks ago today, we started our new school year with an excited 1st grader, 4th grader and 5th grader.

I baked donuts with icing and sprinkles for breakfast.


We made new school shirts.


We painted grade signs for taking photos.


We wrote about ourselves on the first day of a new grade. Then I took pictures of them in their new shirts holding their grade signs to glue to their All About Me sheets that we have done on the first day of school for the past few years (can be found here).


Then, we (or rather, I) struggled to sort out the schedule of lessons for a 1st, 4th and 5th grader. And finally, we met with friends for snow cones in the afternoon. I hope the first day traditions, the art projects, the photos and the snowcones are what my kids remember about the first day of school. I hope they remember it as a fun day. Because it was only 2 weeks ago, it’s still fresh in my mind, and I remember the stressed-out, overwhelmed feeling of that day. I was not having fun.

This is not our first year homeschooling. It is our fourth. You would think by now I would have this first-day-of-school-thing down. Nope. Why was I struggling so much with what should have been a fun day for Mom too? Because in all the planning, I planned too much into that day.

So, here is my official note for next year: do less on Day 1. Keep the first day fun. Keep it as an exciting kick-off for the school year. Do the fun breakfast. Do the art project shirts and signs. Take the pictures. Go for snow cones. Leave everything else on the to-do list to be done another day.


Planning for a year of Magic School Bus

I have been wanting to do this since last year: design a complete year’s hands-on science curriculum based on Magic School Bus books and videos. My oldest kid is going into fifth grade. It’s now or never.

The science lessons for each topic are based on the 5-E method: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate. Engage is the hook, something to get their interest in the topic. Explore is a hands on activity, teacher led but learner centered. Explain is the “teaching” moment. Elaborate is when students apply what they have learned to more challenging activities, or design their own investigations. Evaluate is assessment time to see if the student has mastered the objectives of the lesson. In a classroom this would be a quiz or test, however in homeschool is usually a verbal assesment or project based.

Our science lessons will probably be three days a week, I am still hashing out details of our schedule, so obviously some days will have more than one lesson segment. This is an ongoing work in progress to add activities, but here is my framework for Magic School Bus Lesson Plans for the year (MS Excel). Our school year runs July to May, with one week off per month, so I tried to keep topic clustered to monthly units, but that was not always possible. We are starting school soon, so I am focusing on tweaking July’s lesson schedule and activities, and still need to list out all the supplies I will need for each week (basically, my shopping and library list). I will be using the Magic School Bus book that coordinates with each topic/video, but will also be grabbing books at the library for each topic for my kids to reading during their SSR time (silent sustained reading).IMG_7715.JPG

I found a treasure chest of activities for each book on Scholastic’s site of Magic School Bus teaching resources. There are activities for every video, which works nicely since I chose to use the videos as our engage activity for each topic. Scholastic also has printable KWL (know, want to know, learned) organizers that we will use with each topic. I printed out activities, and filed them into my lesson plan binder by unit, with individual weeks paper clipped together so I can easily flip to a particular week when I find an activity I want to add.IMG_7711IMG_7713.JPG

I have a copy of the lesson plan in the front, as a type of Table of Contents.IMG_7712

I am not limiting my lesson plans to the activities on Scholastic though. As a former science teacher, I have piles of books and activities for every possible topic. If lacking, a quick seach will yield a plethora of link to ideas, activities, lesson plans, and free printables. For example, I found great resources for my 4th and 5th graders on California Academy of Science’s lesson plan page. Here is a lesson on insects that I will be using with my kiddos, probably during the week we watch/read “Magic School Bus Gets Ants in its Pants”. I like it because not only does it explore the parts of an insect, but they create their own insect with adaptations based on the habitat and food source they select. These are great follow-up activities to the suggested activities I found on Scholastic’s site to make an ant farm and perform an experiment to see which types of food the ants prefer. I also like their game for complete and incomplete metamorphosis for the week we watch/read “Butterfly and the Bog Beast”, as my kids have hatched butterflies for the past two years, we are kind of past the life cycle of a butterfly activities.

There are so many possibilities it is very difficult to narrow down to just a few activities to do each week! However, in the land of worksheets-a-plenty, it is important to remember to look for hands-on activities, experiments and investigations so kiddos will ask and understand the “how and why”, not just answer the “what”. Science is more than memorizing new vocabulary, it’s making observations, designing experiments, and collecting data in order to understand systems and cycles, build models, and form explanations that can be justified. As Ms. Frizzle would say, “It’s time to ask questions, get messy, make mistakes!”

Hunting for curriculum deals

One of the perks, and drawbacks, of homeschooling is choosing (what you believe to be) the right curriculum for your child…and then purchasing it. Some companies offer complete curriculums for hundreds to thousands of dollars. I am not a fan of the boxed curriculum. Some are, and it works for them, and that’s fine. I am more of a do-it-myself-er when it comes to picking educational materials for each subject for my kiddos. So, each year I sit at the computer for hours (or days) reading reviews, scouring sites for used copies and the best prices on consumable materials (i.e. workbooks) that I need for my lesson plans. I have my favorite sites, which is what I decided to share today, in hopes of maybe saving someone a little time and money.

For new materials, such as handwriting books or math workbooks, I usually find the best prices at Rainbow Resource. Their prices are usually better than Amazon, but not always. Plus, the company is a family-owned company, and offer materials chosen and reviewed from a place of “been there, done that” as homeschoolers themselves. This is where I find the most comprehensive descriptions of items, plus reviews from customers who actually use the curriculum materials. Shipping is free over $50. I have read glowing reviews of their customer service, but I have never had the need to contact their customer service, so that in itself is enough to keep them as my number one place to shop for anything that I am buying new.

For anything that I can possibly buy used, such as textbooks and teacher manuals, my go-to is ebay. This happens to be my favorite place to sell curriculum materials that we no longer need. Ebay also has a sister site for buying/selling used books at The prices here are usually comparable to buying used on Amazon, but I always check between the two to compare. Occasionally, buying new on Amazon is actually cheaper than buying used because the new price is so close to the used price and Amazon offers free shipping on $25 for books. However, if used prices are better, and you can find multiple used books you need from the same seller, gives a break on media mail shipping charges, whereas sellers on Amazon do not usually offer the same shipping discounts on used items. My absolute favorite site for buying books in volume is Thriftbooks. They offer free shipping on $10! Plus, you earn credit towards a $5 off coupon for every $50 you spend. Some of the books qualify for additional discounts of 2 for $7, 3 for $10, or 4 for $12. And while buying used will save you money, be prepared to occasionally receive items not in the described condition, and longer shipping times.

For free printable items, such as writing prompts, science diagrams, history maps or handwriting sheets, I find Pinterest to be a great resource, especially for items created by other homeschoolers. TeacherPayTeacher is a fantastic resource of teacher created items, however not all are free. You can search by grade level, subject, or by search terms. If you sort by price, there are almost alway freebies as well as very inexpensive items. For the creative homeschooler, TPT is a great place to sell your own creations.

Lastly, the best resource for free quality educational materials is none other than the local library. Local libraries usually offer ebooks and interlibrary loan, if the physical book you need is not available at their branch.

Once the shopping is complete, sit back and wait for the stacks of media-mail envelopes of books to arrive. True story, the mailman figured out we were homeschoolers based on the volume of books delivered to our house. He suggested we get a bigger mailbox. Just something to keep in mind.

“So, how long are you gonna homeschool for?”

“So, how long are you gonna homeschool for?” I get asked this question often, mostly by non-homeschooling folks. And, my standard answer is, “For as long as the girls want to.” I just had the conversation with each of them this week about whether they want to continue to homeschool next year, or go to public school. They all independently voted to continue to homeschool next year. I am, admittedly, a little relieved. I have nothing against public school, certainly not our local school district. I whole-heartedly support public education. In fact, someday I hope to return to teaching in public school myself. Personally, it does not matter where the education takes place, but it does require three legs on which to stand: the engagement of the student, the passion of the teacher, and the involvement of the parents. Education at Burden Academy: check, check, and check.

With that disclaimer,  there are obvious perks to homeschooling that I am relieved not to have to surrender. We get up and start school on our schedule. We pick the curriculum. If it’s not working, we change it. They get one on one attention and get to go at their pace. If they are struggling with a concept, we find different ways to approach it until we find something that works. We mostly go year round, with a week off per month, two weeks off at Christmas and a month off in June. In fact, we will kick off our fourth year of homeschool in July. It may sound like a lot of time spent schoolin’ when others are not, but it means we can spend a week at the beach in the fall when crowds and temperatures are down, or hit that long-awaited theme park during the off-season.IMG_7630.JPG

Homeschooling means regular field trips, as often as we can handle it. It means cuddles with my kiddos during math, reading, or unit study, while they are still little enough to want cuddles. It means freedom to go as far down the rabbit hole on a topic as we want when the mood strikes us. It means impassioned learning to quench curiosity, learning for the sake of learning. No state testing or state standards to buckle under, but education that is aligned to educational goals for each kid, and personally assessed daily. No one knows them better or cares more about their education than I do, because I am the parent as well as the teacher. Breathe in, do you smell that? That is the sweet aroma of educational freedom. God bless Texas.

So, how long will we homeschool? I will do my best to keep you posted, but no promises. We keep pretty busy these days. We are homeschoolers, you know.

Sewing a sampler

My kiddos are sewing their first sampler. While reading a biography about young Betsy Ross with our Beyond Five in a Row unit curriculum, we started on this sewing project this week. IMG_7641.JPGSo far, it is a hit. Pinterest provided the idea of using a gingham material for a grid to make stiching easy. I found an old shirt of hubby’s that resembled graph paper, and decided to use that. Hobby Lobby has a simple and straight-forward video of how to do a few basic stitches on YouTube, found here. We watched the video all the way through on the first day of the project, and cut and hooped the fabric. Then, we watch the clip of one stitch and then practice it, going at a rate of one new stitch per day. IMG_7642.JPGMy fourth grader’s work from the first two lessons is shown above, but even my kinder kid is working on a sampler, with a little help from Mom. I do have to help the older two thread the needles, as embroidery floss can be difficult to thread, but have left the stitching up to them. Since we are only doing one stitch lesson per day, the work is quick and frustrations are low. Not only are they using spatial and math skills to plan their stitches, but practicing fine motor skills.