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!”


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.

Online art lesson resources (free!)

I discovered a gem earlier this year, but did not get around to actually trying it out until last month: online art lessons at The series is called “Art Through the Year”, and now in its second year, there are more than a dozen video lessons to choose from. Each lesson focuses on specific art topics such as line, shape, perspective, color, texture, etc. The lessons run through the school year, with episode one in September, and seem to be somewhat seasonal. The lessons are not cumulative though, so you can start with lesson one or jump right in at the current lesson. The two that we have tried involved multiple projects with art supplies we already had at home.

First, we tried “Line and Shape with Swans” (season 2, episode 1). The lesson invovled using washable markers to create a swan picture with a castle in the background. A wet paper towel was used to bleed the marker colors for a watercolor effect.

The other project used glitter and tissue paper to make a ballerina picture.

Next, we tried “Trees in All Seasons” (season 2, episode 2). The lesson has several projects to make, however we only had time to complete project #1 for fall and summer trees. These were fun, and added variety with using sponges to paint multicolored leaves on fall trees, and tissue paper to add texture to leaves on summer trees.

 I find that in art, so many of the topics are about nature, so that it is easy to slide a science lesson in there as well. But maybe that is just the science teacher in me. I feel like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Show me a lesson, any lesson, and I will show you how that lesson relates to science…”

We find the videos to be quickly paced, and pause the video often to catch up. Each lesson has a downloadable handout to give an overview of each project in case you do not have time to preview each video lesson. The kids really enjoy what they produce, so we will continue to include this series as a supplement, where we do not have another art lesson already scheduled in our curriculum.

Mensa for Kids and next year’s Pi Day Plan (because we did nothing this year)

I sometimes wonder if I could have handled homeschooling pre-Internet. There are some seriously cool resources online. Free resources. So, so many, cool, free resources that it boggles the mind. So many things that are amazing, and yet I will never get around to using them, but I like having those resources in my pocket. I am sure you, like me, have a complicated bookmark list in your browser, attemting to organize all the wonderful things you have seen and want to use. Add Mensa for Kids.

You add Mensa for Kids under your bookmark list of fun online games. Their Games page has online educational games for math, science, geography, and English language arts. While you are there, sign up for the Bright Newsletter for Kids, which contains games as well.

Or you could file this site under English language arts for their Excellence in Reading program. Reading lists of superb books are grouped by grade range. Students can read or listen to the books, then date and rate each book when completed. When the list is completed, the student earns a t-shirt (and the brain growth of reading great literature). Also under ELA, you could bookmark their A Year of Living Poetically page. This list of twelve classics by famous poets is meant to be completed in a year, at a rate of one per month, of course. However, I would suggest checking the topics of the poems before handing them all to an early elementary student; some of the subject matter gets serious. Young children might benefit from memorizing their favorite Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Shel Silverstein poems before jumping into some of these.

And of course, this site has a whole section of lesson plans, so bookmark it for next year’s planning (or finishing out this year). Lessons cover science topics like ecosystems, weather, cells, etc. Math lessons cover topics like probability and shapes. ELA lessons include storytelling, writing, and media literacy. There are even lessons for geography, history and music. All the lessons are rated for elementary, middle or high school, but could probably be adapted up or down based on your need. And note these are not one day lessons. For example, the lesson on Classifying Animals, rated early and upper elementary, actually contains six lessons to take student through the process of observing differences and similarities in organisms to taxonomy/classification. I see this lesson plan being useful in middle school science as well.

There is also a page of Activity Plans. Check out the Pi Day Fun activity. Yeah, I planned nothing for today, we all have colds and barely got our regular school work done. I am making grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner, no pie. It’s that kind of Pi Day. But next year, oh the plans I have for next year’s Pi Day. To the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree”:

Oh Number Pi
by LaVern Christianson

Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi Your digits are unending, Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi No pattern are you sending. You’re three point one four one five nine, And even more if we had time, Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi For circle lengths unbending. Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi You are a number very sweet, Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi Your uses are so very neat. There’s 2 Pi r and Pi r squared, A half a circle and you’re there, Oh, number Pi Oh, number Pi We know that Pi’s a tasty treat.


Why and how we use Life of Fred books

When we first started homeschooling three years ago, I was not sure about anything. I was a high school science teacher teaching first and second grade to my own kids, with no experience with elementary teaching, just a deisre to offer my kids…more. I decided I could do it all on my own, come up with our curriculum in all the subjects with as a guide and a few free resources I found online. While I do not regret anything we did this year, I did learn that Charlotte Mason’s style of education, while sounding great, did not fit with my teaching style. I also learned that while the free math resources I found at Center for Innovation in Teaching Mathematics were thorough and challenging, it was not working for my middle child. By  middle of our second year, I decided this math resource was not a good fit for her and looked for alternative math options.

Life of Fred kept coming up. I saw Life of Fred everywhere. So in the middle of last year, I ordered a Life of Fred Book, the first book, Apples, to see what all the fuss was about. We read Life of Fred at bedtime. My girls loved it. We finished Apples. Then we read Butterflies. My girls still loved Fred and his doll Kingie, and their adventures. And then Life of Fred Cats. And then Life of Fred Dogs. And then Life of Fred Edgewood, and I finally decided that I would work Life of Fred into our regular math curriculum instead of just bedtime reading. Now, I do not know what our Friday mornings would be without him.

This year, we switched to Singapore Primary Mathematics as our base math curriculum, with Life of Fred on Fridays. My third grader worked through Life of Fred Goldfish during the fall, and is now on Life of Fred Honey. My fourth grader worked through Life of Fred Ice Cream, and is now in Life of Fred Jellybeans. They glide through Singapore Math Monday through Thursday, but come Friday, they are all about Fred. I find the great thing about Life of Fred is that it makes a great supplement to whichever math curriculum you may already be using. Some people swear by using it as a stand alone curriculum, however I find that it works better for us as a fun addition. Between Singapore Primary and Life of Fred, my third grader has a restored confidence in mathematics, and no more tears at math time.

Fred has helped my third grader with learning two and three digit multiplication and long division, long before it will show up in her Singapore books. Fred helped concrete her time telling, and encouraged her in learning her basic multiplication tables, something that frustrated her before.

I also consider our time spent with Fred to be a GT extension for my kiddos. Fred introduced sets, the union of sets, the intersection of sets, domain and codomain, and ordered pairs to my fourth grader with real life applications. These topics, not addressed in her regular math curriculum, flex her math/logical thinking skills and stretch her understanding of mathmematical applications.

My kinder kid has worked through Life of Fred Apples, and is now in Life of Fred butterflies. Fred has taught her to tell time, add and subtract, tricks about shapes such as making triangles versus rectangles and squares, circles vs. elipses, ordinal vs. cardinal numbers, etc. She loves Fred. I think we need to get a stuffed Fred for our classroom just so she can hug him.

What does it cost to check out Fred? The Life of Fred books are hard cover books that hold their value well. Books are about $16 each new from the publisher at Z-Twist Books. You might possibly find one for a little less used on ebay, but they hold their value. Meaning, if you buy Life of Fred and your kid does not love Fred’s adventures in math, then you can recoup your losses by selling it used for very close to what you paid for it.



Homeschooling Austism: Social-emotional learning

My ten-year old is a petite, loving, social, creative, extremely intelligent child (I am not biased, of course, ha!) who happens to have high functioning autism. Homeschooling allows her to have a caring instructor (me) who is deeply committed to a rich education while trying to help her to grow her ability to handle strong emotions, sensory overloads and times when life does not go as planned, her Achilles’ heel. However, there have been some occurrences this past year which have brought social-emotional learning strategies to a new priority level.

This week, I added a few activities to our day to focus on social-emotional learning. First, we took a mid-morning break at 10:30am with for a couple of movement videos, then a couple of yoga videos, then a rainbow breathing video. (All four of us appreciate the videos are only a few minutes long so we can work a lot of variety into our break. The girls also take turns choosing the videos to grow their avatars, so I appreciate the ease in which we can switch between their accounts from the pull down menu.)

After the rainbow breathing, while everyone was calm and focused, we watched a cognitive behavior therapy video on controlling negative thoughts, via Youtube. The video, found here, is very simple, with no bells and whistles, however gets the message to children in simple language that they can easily understand about “poison” and “anecdote” thoughts. The producer of the video, Joel Shaul, has a website,, with numerous printables available for FREE for working with children on the spectrum. I printed the “poison” and “anecdote” thought bubbles activity that correlates with the video.. We only did about six of them today, but they loved it. We will eventually do the whole set, as well as watch the rest of the series of eight videos, and do the correlating activities at our pace. The videos and materials are especially geared toward kids with ASD, however I find the material applicable for any child (or adult for that matter). Mr. Shaul is also the author of several books for children with autism and a game called Ryuu, which is described in this Youtube video, and is available for purchase at The World of Ryuu.

Ryuu is a card game about dragons, similar to a trading game like Pokemon. The six dragons move through four levels of evolution from eggs to mature dragons, hindered by dark forces such as black and white thinking and inflexibility, and helped by light forces such as gray thinking and flexibility, respectively. We finished our social-emotional learning lesson, I mean mid-morning break, by reading from the CD-ROM that came with the game about the Land of Ryuu (Ryuu means “dragon” in Japanese) and one of the dragon’s stories. The dragon’s back-stories are written to be relatable by a child. The kids loved it. We examined each of the dragons cards today. Next “session” we will further explore the Land of Ryuu and stories of other dragons, as well as start exploring the light and dark forces that will shape their evolution (maturing). I am not going to lie, this was not an easy decision to buy this. I do not usually plunk down $60 for a game. However, I felt this would be more like a curriculum for us than just a game, and indeed it is. I also had the girls watch the Youtube video for children about the Ryuu game to make sure this is something they would be interested in. Plus, the game came with 2 decks of cards, so thinking we will keep one for play and use the other as a “reward” deck so the girls can earn their own cards for trading. Because this game is created for children, it is relatable to how ALL children feel sometimes, not just kids with ASD, I would recommend it to anyone who has a child who seems to struggle with social skills.


Friday Game Day

On Fridays, we take a break from our regular curriculum in spelling and math. In spelling, we play Spelling City games at The website has free and paid-premium options, however we have always just used the free games.

It is easy to add lists. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I just went through the entire All About Spelling book and made lists for each step (chapter) of the curriculum. Then, each week, it is easy to log in, select the step we just completed that week, and allow the girls to play whichever free games they wish.

In math, we set aside our Singapore books to read a chapter from Life of Fred, and do the problems at the end of each chapter.

After Fred, my 3rd and 4th graders play Speed, a multiplication card game. For my kinder kid, today we are trying Qwirkle, my latest find at our favorite consignment shop here in town.

We forgo our regular unit studies on Friday for geography. Today, after we review the northeast states and learn their capitals, we will play a round or two of Scrambled States of America.

Playing games is a fun way to add gifted/talented differentiation to our homeschool planning, and also work on social-emotional skills with my autism kiddo, such as turn taking, manners, and graceful winning/losing.