Sunday, September 27, 2009

To Bee or not to Bee (updated)

Quick: What is the capital of Burkina Faso? In our house you will get two quick answers to this question; Benedict (8) will say:"Well Ouagadougou, of course" while Teddy (11) will give you a quick eye roll as in "no geography questions again, please". A question of this sort usually is followed by a frenzy of globes, atlases, encyclopedias jumping off the shelves and ending up in a large spread on the dining room table. You will see Benedict pouring over Ouagadougou facts and quickly checking to make sure he still remembers all his other African capitals, every one of his moves followed closely by his sister Cecilia and every hard to pronounce (but always with a thick American accent) word parroted back by the same 6 year old fan. The frenzy often continues with pleas from our little geographer for more books from the library. This pretty much summarizes the place geography has in our family.
I don't remember exactly how it all started. It was probably soon after Benedict's obsession with math turned tepid, that his ambitious nature pushed him into discovering some other academic passion. Little by little he started reading atlases, maps, borrowing books about countries from the library and before we knew it he had memorized quite a lot of facts which he was proudly willing to display at the first sign of interest from any of us. Our trips to the library started being more numerous and we made sure that the librarians at the Edmonds branch did not get bored, by placing lots on books on hold.
It's been over a year since this geo-craziness started and Benedict is showing no signs of slowing down. We obviously got to the point where we considered the possibility of him participating in the National  Geographic Bee. After a little research, however, we discovered that the geo bee is only open to students in grades 4-8. Our then 2nd grader decided that he will use this opportunity to practice the virtue of patience and to work on increasing his geography knowledge until he is in 4th grade. Whether to Bee or not to Bee, is not really a question for us, we will Bee, of course, and I say "we" because this is a family affair in a way; we all love drilling, questioning, providing Benedict with learning materials and opportunities and just marveling at his ever expanding knowledge of the subject. Yes, even his big brother, Teddy, has been known to get excited about it, except, maybe for the occasional time when a particularly annoying and hard to pronounce word like Oagadougou reaches his ears, then he will very likely roll his eyes in exasperation.

Since I can't conclude a post without a list of some sort, here is a plan I came up with, for preparing my child for the National Geographic Bee (some are things that have naturally happened and some are things that we've planned for the future):

1. Figure out if your child is interested, or rather passionate enough about geography for this road to even be worthwhile following.If the answer is yes then the second step is:

2. Follow your child's lead. Only do the geography related activities the child asks for. This will assure that his excitement will grow. No teaching, no drills, no flashcards yet.

3. If you haven't done this already, make sure there is a world map and a US map available for the child somewhere in the house. Ideally they will be displayed on a wall in the kitchen or dining room or in the child's bedroom. In addition to the maps, you will need a globe (our favorite is the smart globe) and an atlas. Make sure they are all very recent, and be prepared to replace them every couple of years, since almost every year new countries are being created or are becoming independent.

4. Visit your local library and show the child the area where the books about countries are. Let  her choose a few books about her favorite countries and remember the ones she particularly liked, then put on hold other books from the same series (I've noticed that many geography children's books are part of a series or another). Chances are if she liked one, she will like the other ones too.

5. Make subscriptions or borrow magazines from the library. Almost any children's magazine will add to the child's knowledge about the world. I've posted our favorites in my previous post, but I would say that the most useful for us have been: National Geographic, Ranger Rick, Kids Discover, Times for Kids and Scholastic. Each issue of National Geographic comes with a list of 5 questions used at the Geo Bee, but you will only get them if you have a subscription.

6. Buy or borrow a book about the geography bee. It will give you, the parent, a lot of useful  information about the bee. There are a couple of books about the subject available at bookstores and at most libraries. These books will give you details about age restrictions, dates, preparation, sample questions and advice from former bee champions.

7. Watch documentaries together. Again, the library has a large collection of videos about countries and cultures, but don't omit the ones about nature, animals and history; there's always some geography to be learned from almost any kind of documentary. If you let the child watch by himself, you might want to preview some of these videos, especially the history ones if they are geared towards adults, but I've found even some films about animals to be disturbing for smaller children.

8. Watch the film "Spellbound" with your child. It is about the spelling bee not the geo bee but it will give you and your child a feel for the actual contest. Also look for you tube videos of actual geography bee contests. Your child will get an idea of what kinds of questions are being asked at different levels of the contest and will better know how to prepare.

9. Help the child stay on top of the world news. Many of the questions on the bee will be related to current events.

10. Make flash cards together with your child. The ones I made for Benedict have the country written on one side in a certain marker color and the capital on the other side in a different color. I also added a colored dot (different colors for each continent) in the upper left corner. After he was well on his way to learning his capitals (by the way currently there are about 195 countries in the world, but not everyone agrees on this number since there are some countries that are not universally recognized), I started adding information about the religions of the countries and the next step will be to add languages. There will probably be enough room on each card to add a few important historical data and important natural landmarks. The idea is to add information little by little so as not to overwhelm the child. When Benedict studies his capitals he takes the cards of the countries starting with a certain letter and studies them until he knows them well then I quiz him until he gets 100% and then he gets a little reward. Every couple of letters he does a review.

11. In the higher grades, 7th and 8th, if your child is still interested, encourage her to make an actual study plan, where she will review all her previously acquired geography knowledge and add to it every day. Two hours or more a day of studying geography is not uncommon for middle schoolers who are dreaming of making it to the national level of the bee. The key here, however, is not how much time they spend every day on it, but how efficient their study plan is.

This is a quick summary of what I think would be a good plan for preparing for the National Geography Bee. The botom line, however, is that the child should love the whole process, because if he does, all these steps will happen naturally anyway. This whole process is about learning, widening your horizons and having fun.

 Our Favorite Geography Resources

1. Oregon Scientific Smart Globe 
We bought ours for about $79 from Costco before Christmas. Benedict spent many happy hours listening to information about countries, capitals, distances between places, languages (it even teaches you how to say "hello" in the language of every country), national anthems, presidents (many of them not in office anymore, since our globe is a few years old) and more. There is an option for playing games and taking quizzes. There is also a pull out map of America.

2. Faces and Places Series
These were the first geography books Benedict read. When he finished the whole series he moved on to the Discover Cultures series. These are appropriate for 2nd-4th grades or even younger as read-alouds.

3. Discovering Cultures Series
These are written at a 4th-6th grade level.

4.Visual Geography
 For the advanced reader who is ready for more, this series is very informative and has great pictures. Benedict and I enjoy checking some out once in a while just to look at the pictures and browse through them. Reading level :teen-adult

5. True Books
We love the true books. They are so easy to read yet cover so much information. They are not only about countries, but also about civics and government, science topics and more. Reading level: 3rd-6th.

6. Time for Kids Almanac

7. National Geographic Kids Almanac

8. 1000 Place To See Before You Die Page-A- Day Calendar
I bought this one for Christmas also, almost expecting the boys to leave it on a shelf somewhere and forget about it. Well, I'm happy to report that it has been on the boys window sill since January 1st and a page was removed and read almost every day. Indeed, every time I open the window in the boys' room, the calendar is showing the correct date (except for when the boys were out of town).

9. The Geo Bee Challenge
When he remembers to do it and if I allow him to go on the computer, Benedict likes to take this daily quiz. It has two different levels: apprentice and expert.

10. Sheppard Software Online Geography Games
The most educational online games we found are the ones on this site. They teach countries, capitals and landscapes for each continent and have quizzes at different levels. The games are fun and quite addictive. Recently they started adding games for science, history, math and more.

11. The Geography Bee Complete Preparation Handbook
This is the best Geography Bee preparation guide, in my opinion. It gives a step by step plan on how to prepare, offers lots of practice questions and includes tips from former national winners.

12. World Map Shower Curtain
This shower curtain has allowed us the opportunity to learn a bit of geography every morning for the 10 minutes or so while we're taking our showers. The only problem with these shower curtains is that they break easily when kids pull on them. Ours last less than a year.

 Final questions in the 2007 National Geographic Bee : Caitlin Snaring is/was a homeschooler from Redmond, Washington.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Favorite Children's Magazines

Children's magazines are some of the favorite reading materials in our house. If well chosen, they can also be great educational materials.
Here are the kids' magazines we've had subscriptions to in the past or present or the ones the boys regularly borrow from the library. They are the magazines I approve of.

1. DIG
An archeology magazine for about 9-14 year olds; has a lot of articles about Ancient History and about the work archeologists do, great pictures too. Teddy had a drawing published in one of their issues this summer.

A magazine with short stories written and illustrated by children about 9-13 years old; this is one of Teddy's favorites, he dreams of one day publishing one of his own stories or pictures there.

One of my favorites, this magazine has been, I think, discontinued, but older issues are available at thrift stores, library sales, the homeschooling store etc. Geared towards a slightly younger age group (about 7-12+), each of the issues of Kids Discover focuses on one theme and presents a collection of articles, stories, pictures etc about that particular subject. Some examples of the ones that we found are: Cells, Rain Forests, The Industrial Revolution, Glaciers, Languages and many, many more. I was lucky enough to find a bunch of them second hand at prices ranging from 10-75 cents each.

Benedict's favorite. We've never subscribed to this one because our library has it plus it is very easy to find second hand. Probably one of the most popular kids' magazines in America, this is about animals and is addressed to the 9 and over age group, although, I think, 7 and 8 year old who read well independently, love them too. The other two animal magazines we've read in the past, geared to the younger age groups are: My Big Backyard and Baby Bug. Benedict read all the Ranger Rick's and My Big Back Yard's from the library so now I have to keep my eyes open for older issues.

Another animal magazine, each issue of this one specializes on just one animal.

6. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (the one for adults)
Although the reading level is pretty advanced, I kind of like having a subscription to the NG (thanks to my father in law, Dan). The kids are fascinated with the pictures (Teddy likes those of the wildlife, especially birds, while Benedict is in love with anything about other cultures). That being said, I have to add the warning that there are occasional pictures or articles that are inappropriate for children; I learned this the hard way, when Teddy told me that he was greatly disturbed by a picture he saw in one NG and asked me to review the new issues before handing them to him. I've learned my lesson and when I see something inappropriate I either rip the page out or use my permanent marker to cover anything inappropriate. I've drawn many bathing suits with that marker, especially in encyclopedias or books.

This is the only current events newspaper/magazine I know of, for kids. Yes, it is liberal and very public schoolish but sooner or later my kids will have to know what's going on in the real world and I love discussing the news with them. After reading their Time for Kids cover to cover they always come to Dominic or me and tell us about it and then we discuss it.

Similar to Time for Kids, this one is less about current events and more about academics, school life and other subjects of interest to children. They have different issues for each grade level and we subscribe to the 3rd grade one for Benedict and the 5/6th grade on for Teddy.

Published by Scholastic, this magazine has articles about a variety of science topics, mostly fun stuff. It also includes experiment ideas (that the kids can conduct by themselves) and quizzes, games etc. All the Scholastic magazines come with a teacher's edition with ideas for activities, tests etc. relating to that particular issue.

Another Scholastic magazine, this one is about math. Trying to make math more fun and meaningful, it includes all kinds of articles, records, games all relating in one way or another to math. We've had a subscription to this last year, but due to the lack of enthusiasm my kids had when receiving it, we didn't renew it.

A magazine about everything American (history, government, social issues, symbols), this is the one I want my kids to like but they don't. I occasionally borrow one or two from the library and leave them on the coffee table or dining room table (one of my tactics to make the boys read what I want them to), but with not much success.

As for the magazines I don't like my kids to read and I do not recommend, the list is much shorter:


The reason I don't approve of the first two magazines, which by the way seem to be the most popular at our library, is because they have a very large amount of advertisements to things like junk food, video games, objectionable movies, and cover too much of the popular culture or the "culture of cool" (Hannah Montana, American Idol, High School Musical, Jonas Brothers etc.) which my kids have absolutely no need to be exposed to. Junior Scholastic, which used to be on my recommended list, really disappointed me in the last issues. It is clearly geared towards public school children (maybe some private school kids too) who are dealing with issues like: bullying (including cyber bullying), drugs etc.

I'm sure I missed a few magazines, but this is a good list of what the boys and I have found were educational and entertaining.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The First Two Weeks (Aug. 31-Sept. 11 2009)

This is what Teddy learned/completed during his first two weeks of 6th grade.

1. READING: from the reader This is Our Heritage: Psalm 22, poems: Damascus Road and The Right Must Win; stories: Miracle at Black Mountain, Prisoner on Patmos; exercises: arranging events in order and recalling details.Reading Comprehension book: lessons 1-4; read The Adventures of Don Quixote (abridged) and first 3 chapters of St. Isaac and the Indians.

2. GRAMMAR: from Voyages in English: Nouns (proper/common, collective, person, number, gender), Exercises in English:ex. 1-10

3. VOCABULARY:Wordly Wise: half of lesson 1

4. SPELLING: Spelling Workout: lesson 1 and part of lesson 2

5. WRITING:Writing Strands: assignment 1(Following Directions) and part of assignment 2 (Sentence and Paragraph Control)

6. PENMANSHIP: six lines written in Spencerian cursive in workbook, dictation (Nicene Creed)

7. MATH: Saxon 76: lessons 1-9

8. LOGIC: Mind Benders: problems 1-4

9. SCIENCE: Cells Genetics and Heredity, exercises in Science Essentials

10. HISTORY: Japan in Isolation (1603-1716), The Stuarts (1603-1649), Early American Settlers (1607-1650); outlines for each lesson; added important dates on time-line, read library book about Samurai, read chapter about Japan from Story of the World 3,listened to about 30 min of The Story of US on tape

11. RELIGION: read, discussed, worked on memorization on ch. 7 in Baltimore Catechism; read and discussed first 2 chapters in Byzantine textbook (learned about Ss. Constantine and Helen and Ss. Vladimir and Olga; the Holy Mysteries, in particular Baptism and Chrismation)

12. GEOGRAPHY: did a few pages in The Complete Book of Maps and Geography, but decided to work on Civics/Government the first quarter and to do Geography the rest of the year.

13. CIVICS/GOVERNMENT: The Thirteen Colonies (workbook pages and read part of a library book on the subject)

14. ART: Lessons 1-2 of first unit (space), did 2 drawings; read ch.1 of Art 5 for Young Catholics (descriptions of symbolism in several paintings depicting the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Carlo Crivelli, Rubens and more)

15. MUSIC: read 2 Bach biographies while listening to his music, listened to an online program Classics for Kids on Bach (biography stories and music),1 piano lesson with Miss Brown.

16. LATIN: Latina Christiana II Lesson 1 (Verbs, 1st and 2nd conjugations, present, future, imperfect tenses, irregular verbs)

17.GERMAN: Rosetta Stone: Unit 1, lesson1 and part of lesson 2

18. ROMANIAN: read and translated four short texts, made flash cards and learned 23 words

19. MEMORY: 1/3 of Nicene Creed

20. P.E. : bike riding (3 times), hiking (once)

Books read:
1. The Icebound Land (Ranger's Apprentice, book 3) by John Flanagan
2. J.S. Bach by Mike Venezia
3. J.S. Bach by E. M. Summerer
4. Sword of the Samurai by Eric Kimmel
5. Adventures of Don Quixote by Argentina Palacios
6. The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, book 1) by Rick Riordan

Teddy's Curriculum for 6th Grade

1. Grammar: Voyages in English 6
2. Spelling: Spelling Workout Level G
3. Vocabulary: Wordly Wise 6
4. Penmanship: Spencerian Penmanship and Dictations
5. Reading: Seton's 6th grade reading program (Faith and Freedom Reader, Book of Valor, Reading Comprehension, Thinking Skills), 4 literature books, 4 saints biographies, 2 historical novels
6. Writing: Writing Strands 3, four book reports

1. Latin: Latina Christiana II
2. German: Rosetta Stone Homeschool
3. Romanian: Romanian Primers (for reading, translating, pronunciation and vocabulary)

1.History: Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (world and American history during 1600-1850); Book of time (time-line notebook by Sonlight)
2. Geography: Complete Book of Maps and Geography
3. Civics and Government: Complete Book of Presidents and States and library books

Saxon 76 and Kumon

Harcourt textbook (6th grade) and test book
Big Book of Science (for extra reading and worksheets)
Spectrum Science Test Preparation (6th grade)
Bill Nye the Science Guy DVD's
Internet Science games, tutorials, quizzes
Science experiments with dad

1. Roman Catholic: Baltimore Catechism 2
2. Byzantine: We Respond to God (6th grade textbook from God With Us series)

1. Artistic Pursuits, gr 4-6 (drawing program)
2. Seton's Art 5 for Young Catholics (art appreciation of religious art, both western and byzantine).

1. Music Appreciation: Two classical composers each quarter (CD's from our collection and from the library, composer biographies from the library)
2. Piano: weekly lessons with Miss Brown, daily practice

Mind Benders level A

X. P.E.
bike riding, swimming, team sports starting soon

1. Memory: memorizing The Nicene Creed, other prayers and poems (10 minutes a day)
2. Virtue of the month