Monday, July 19, 2010

Physical Fitness in Your Home School


“For physical training is of some value,
but godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:8

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

The point of fitness is not to tone up any one group of muscles, but to give the whole body strength, vitality, endurance, flexibility, and coordination. If they start an active exercise lifestyle now, they won’t be so tempted to become sedentary adults!

Check with your child’s doctor before starting any strenuous exercise program. He or she will want to rule out any possible problems which might endanger your child. Also, consult your doctor if your child seems unusually tired after an activity, as this could be a symptom of anemia or some other malady.

Aim for a variety of activities to exercise different body systems. Get the lungs breathing (aerobic) and hearts pumping (cardiovascular). Work on coordination and strength for both large and small muscle groups. Examples of well-balanced activities are swimming, fast walking, roller blading, and bike riding.

Don’t forget to warm up before exercise and cool down afterwards. This will help protect your child from cramps, strains, nausea and exhaustion. If you are exercising outside, beware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion!

Work on basic fitness and coordination skills.

  • practice keeping proper balance during activities
  • learn how to fall correctly if you lose your balance
  • hop on one or two feet
  • skip or run in a straight, curved or zigzag line
  • chase or flee (hide and seek, tag)
  • jump with one or both feet, perhaps over an object
  • jump rope
  • dance in rhythm to music
  • walk on a balance beam
  • do somersaults and cartwheels
  • swing by propelling yourself forward and backward using your legs
  • climb on a suitable play structure or tree
  • go up and down on seesaw
  • catch and throw a ball with accuracy
  • aim at a target (ring toss, darts, archery)
  • hit an object with a hand, club, bat or other object (such as volleyball, badminton, mini-golf, croquet, tennis, T-ball, softball)
  • kick a stationary or moving ball
  • cross monkey bars hand over hand
  • ride a bicycle
  • float in water, tread water, use a kick board, swim independently
  • hike for an extended distance, using appropriate pace
  • follow the rules of a game
  • participate in group activities without bumping into others
  • lift objects safely
Adapt activities to the abilities of the child. Make each activity enjoyable, rather than overwhelming. Children get so discouraged when they are unable to do something! Fischer-Price and other companies make sports sets, such as a basketball or T-Ball, especially for young children. You can also modify rules to games, so that a physically challenged child doesn’t need to run as far. If a child does not yet have the coordination for a regular game of ring toss, try this modified version. Take a large plastic lid to a Rubbermaid bin, or any other fairly big flat object with a rim. Let your child toss the rings or other objects onto the lid. Have him keep stepping back until he can’t do this accurately any more. As an extra challenge, toss all of the rings around the yard, and have him run around and collect them before throwing them onto the lid.

  Have fun as a family. Look for activities that you can do at home or in a nearby park. For rainy days, exercise along with a children’s aerobic video in the living room. Kelly-Ann Gritner-Gibbons says, “It is good to develop a family physical activity. The one thing our family does together is go for walks. We have been doing this since our daughter was an infant in a stroller. My husband likes to cycle (I don't!), so he and my daughter bicycle together. If your family plays together, your child is more likely to avoid struggling with inactivity and overweight problems at a later date.”

  Make up your own games. Kelly-Ann also says, “The best way to encourage my daughter to exercise is to say “Let's make and play a game together!” We draw a hopscotch outline on the ground with a stick, choose a special marker and play. When we first started to play hopscotch, we began by hopping on both feet (helpful for her aging mama, too). As balance and skill developed, we hopped on one foot. Then we take some turns hopping on the alternate foot in order to develop equal strength and balance. We have also taken plastic pop bottles and made bowling pins. We removed the soda pop label, cleaned and dried the bottles thoroughly. We filled each bottle with 1/4 cup sand, uncooked rice, or cornmeal. We screwed the lid on tightly. When my daughter was three and four, we used a plastic beach ball to roll towards the 'bowling pins.' At five and six years old, she uses a tennis ball.”


If desired, look into group P.E. options. Check to be sure that any group program is suitable for your child, physically, emotionally and socially. Be aware of any time commitments; many team sports require several practices and games per week!

  • Enroll in a child fitness program through a community organization or YMCA.
  • Join an organized sports league. Upwards is a Christian church-based basketball program that we have found beneficial.
  • Organize an informal weekly P.E. / recreation day within your circle of friends, home school group, or church. (Our congregation, which is made up of predominantly home schooling families, hosts an open gym night on Monday evenings.)

Read about fitness and sports. In the children’s section of your library, you will probably find books about playing specific sports, as well as general fitness tips. In addition, you can find biographies of famous sports personalities and teams. This may serve as a motivation for your child to excel.


Note: There are also sections in Common Sense Excellence on Nutrition, Hygiene, First Aid, Handicaps, Medical Care and Safety. Find out more about this book here: Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our First Week of School: Schedule, Curriculum, Record Keeping

Our First Week of School: Schedule, Curriculum, Record Keeping

Dear friends,

Back in March, on my main blog, I wrote an article about our family's plans for the 2010-2011 school year. (You can find that here: What We're Doing for School Next Year (The Big Switch!). We've pretty much finalized most of the details already, and, in fact, we have already started our school year! We had two full months off after co-op ended, and I want to do a six-week-on-one-week-off routine this year, so July seemed a reasonable time to start. One of my teenage daughters has been doing Algebra 2 and Web Design 2 on-line with Florida Virtual School this summer to get a jump on things, so I guess she never took any substantial amount of time off.   My two older boys, who are in middle school, had basketball camp at church the week of July 5, so I decided to ease into the new schedule that week with just the three younger kids, who are 9, 7, and almost 5. This proved to be a great decision, especially since I'm starting a new kindergartner who wants (but does not get!) all of my attention. Then this past week, the big boys started, too.

The Morning: History & Science

We generally spend the first part of the morning, from 9 - 10:30 AM, reading from the Bible, singing, then doing history and science together. Then until 12 noon, each of the kids has individual assigned reading related to our American history topic. The older ones are supposed to write a paragraph or two about whatever they read, but this usually turns into a page or two. I won't complain about that! The younger ones -- ages 7 and 5 -- do an oral narration or a few sentences of copy work about what we read.

I must say I am really glad we are doing school all at home this year instead of the co-op. We need it just now. I love the direct teaching approach. I love learning together as a family instead of just overseeing assignments someone else has given them. I love the flexibility. I love how we can pack in a lot of content just reading on the couch. Yes, it took a few days of getting used to sitting still and not interrupting too much. They still have a bit of the summer wiggles. It's good that our assignments have been a little light this week just to break back into things, but we've still covered a lot.

Our American history resources are books and videos we have on hand (hundreds of them), as well as library books and A Beka American history texts at each grade level. (Next month, I'll try to write a blog post about teaching American history.)   We are taking several weeks on each major historical period: Explorers, Colonial, the Revolutionary War, the 1800's (Pioneers and Civil War), Early 1900's (World Wars and Depression) and Late 1900's.

We are using Apologia's Human Anatomy and Physiology text and notebooking journals for science for grades K-6th. Read my review of this excellent curriculum by Jeannie Fulbright here: Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology. Having this organized science program is going to make my year so much easier, and the kids' year so much more interesting and productive.  We do have other books about the human body to supplement the text for individual reading.

If we have any time left over, I read from whatever other book looks interesting.  This week, we started What Would Jesus Do? by Helen Haidle.  It's the children's version of Charles Sheldon's classic In His Steps.

The Afternoon: Math & English Skills

After lunch, they do their math and English skills assignments. For grades K, 2nd, 4th, and 6th math, we are using Horizons. I also bought Comprehensive Curriculum workbooks at Sam's Club for some of them during the summer, and there are still plenty of language arts pages for them to work on. I just tear out a page or two from each section (such as Spelling, Reading Comprehension, etc.) and put it in their Current Week notebook, which contains all the assignments for the week.


My kindergartner's assignments are obviously different. I do phonics with her almost every day. She already knows how to sound out a lot of simple short vowel words, so we practice tandem reading with little stories in a basal reader published by Scott Foresman that I picked up for 50 cents at our library's used bookstore. You can read more about my "tandem reading" method in this article, Learning to Read, or in my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade. We also do Italic handwriting and Horizons math together. She's zipping through the pages of both.  I also give her coloring pages from the Bible Story Coloring Pages book related to whatever Bible story we have been reading.  Each picture has a simplified story to go with it.  When we read about God creating the world, I had her circle the word "God" wherever she saw it on the page, and she copied a sentence or two.  I pick out picture books from the library to read to her, usually two or three a day. The older ones can listen along if they like.

After School

When they are done with their schoolwork as well as any chores, the kids can have free time for the rest of the afternoon. This includes outside play, computer time, PBS or videos, card or board games, crafts and hobbies, inventing things, etc. We might also go to the YMCA or run errands. At the moment, my 6th grader is trying to camouflage a fish tank filter in a large bin of water (making a frog pond), and my kindergartner, not wanting to be left out of wet fun, is floating boats made from plastic cups in another bin. It's a good thing we have a back porch.

Planning and Record Keeping

What about planning and record keeping? I like to do mine on the computer since my kids are doing so much of the same things.   For each week, I type a list of what I plan to do as a group, broken down by day and then subject.  This makes it easy for me to follow as I'm sitting with them.

A typical day for our group work might look like this:


• Bible: Read Genesis 4 and sing "For the Beauty of the Earth."
• History: Read & discuss The Secret World of the Aztecs pages 20-26.
• Science: Read pages 30-33 of anatomy text and draw diagram of cell on page 18 of journal.

I give each child a page with individual assignments, too.  They keep these in their notebook so they can check what they need to do each day. The assignment pages are broken down by subject, then by day. Here are the history and English assignments for my 4th grader. 

Finish reading Leif the Lucky: Discoverer of America (LL) by Erick Berry:

• Mon: Read chapter 4-5 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Tue: Read chapter 6-7 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Wed: Read chapter 8-9 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Thu: Read chapter 10 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Fri: Color Leif Ericson page in your notebook.

• Mon: Start CC pg 79-82 (Reading Comprehension)
• Tue: Finish CC pg 79-82 (Reading Comprehension)
• Wed: CC pg 192 (Sentences)
• Thu: CC pg (Capital Letters and Periods)
• Fri: None!

I keep a copy of all of the assignment sheets in my own notebook, so I can check off what they are doing as we go. When the week is done, we transfer completed work from the Current Week notebook into an archive notebook. The Current Week notebook, along with their math workbook, science journal, and history books (for individual reading) go in a plastic bin with their name on it. The bins are usually stored on a shelf in the dining room, but they often get left in the living room, where most of them do their work. If I find anything left out, it's easy just to pop it back into their bins. I have my own bin with my planning notebook, a Bible, history and science books for group reading, etc. You can read more about my bin system here: "Bin There, Done That" (Or How to Keep School Clutter from Turning You Into a Basketcase)

Home Schooling on a Trip

We are leaving on vacation soon, but counting it as school time since we will be taking field trips to Monticello, the National Zoo, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Valley Forge, and the monuments and museums in Washington, D.C. After we get back, we'll pick up the pace on the more formal school assignments.  When we go on our trip, we will bring along minimal schoolwork. Each of them will have one notebook with lined paper for writing about the places we visit, photocopied coloring pages about the Liberty Bell and other landmarks, a laminated US map (folded page, designed for a notebook) and simple workbooks (from Target's Dollar Spot) about U.S. Presidents and/or the 50 States.  I copied U.S. maps (blank and filled in with state names) so they can memorize the location of the states or mark them in when they see a license plate from there.  I may bring along some books to read aloud, too, especially if they are about the places we are visiting. We aren't bringing any math at all.  If you would like to read my article about vacation preparation, click here Tips for Your Trips: Planning a Vacation to Enjoy Rather than Endure.

I guess that's enough for now!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology

Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology
Review by Virginia Knowles at
Text and Journal by Jeannie Fulbright and Brooke Ryan, M.D., Published by Apologia

Dear friends,

I'm so excited about Jeannie Fulbright's newest elementary science book, Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology! I have to say this may be her best book yet -- and that's saying a lot since we love her other ones, too! My son Micah fell in love with birds after completing the Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day book in the co-op classes we were in last year.

We just began our new school year on Monday. We're actually off to a terrific start, and I credit much of this to the fact that my kids love this new science curriculum and beg to do it first each morning! The hardcover text and the stiff cover spiral bound Notebooking Journal are fascinating, quite complete, and visually appealing. I am inspired by the Creation Confirmation sections liberally sprinkled throughout each lesson. About the Christian emphasis, Jeannie shares, "I had a chance to share the gospel message in Lesson 7 when discussing the attributes of blood. I was also blessed to share my heart in the last lesson, encouraging the children that they are unique, special creations by God - known by Him, and given a special plan and purpose, which God prepared in advance for them. It ends with encouragement to grow in their walk with God and spiritual maturity as their bodies grow in physical maturity."

The Exploring Creation series features the Charlotte Mason approach to education with an effective mix of reading, oral narration, notebooking (writing, drawing, etc.), and hands-on activities for grades K-6. The immersion approach is also used, since one main subject is studied in-depth all year so the children can gain a thorough understanding of the subject instead of just tiny factoids. For example, the Human Anatomy and Physiology volume, co-authored with Brooke Ryan, M.D., has 265 pages and 14 lessons covering all major body systems except the reproductive system. (There is a chapter on Growth and Development which covers prenatal growth and genetics, but not how the baby got there in the first place, if you know what I mean... This shows sensitivity for the emotional maturity level of young children. Parents can cover this topic separately if they wish.) The recommended pace for this book is doing science two days per week and covering a lesson every two weeks, for a total of 28 weeks. However, you can go faster or slower. We are finishing the entire first lesson in one week since the kids are excited about it, but we'll generally follow the regular pace for the rest of the year.

I am already in awe about how much I am personally learning about anatomy. I'm not much of a science person in the first place, so I'm relieved that the whole package is so well-laid out and easy to use. The Notebooking Journal is optional, but I highly recommend it since it makes everything so simple and fun with pages for the student to write and draw about what he or she has learned, as well as vocabulary crosswords, diagrams to fill in, "What Do You Remember?" questions, Scripture copy work in manuscript and cursive, and so much more. In the back of this Notebooking Journal, you will find full-color cut-out pages for fact wheels, mini books (in a variety of styles like tabs, flaps, matchbooks). etc. There are even two transparent plastic pages illustrated with body systems for the on-going Personal Person project. In the front of the Journal, you will find a recommended lesson schedule for the year. For those who can't afford to buy the Journal, a selection of its pages will be available on the Apologia web site later on. You can already find downloadable Journal pages for her other books there. But I do really recommend buying the journals for each of your children. (They are not reproducible.) They will make lesson planning so much easier for you, and they are excellent and durable keepsakes.

Another bit of good news is that for the first time, a Junior Notebooking Journal will be available a little later this summer. Jeannie kindly sent me a PDF of some sample pages so we could get started with them, and I know this Journal is going to make a huge difference for my second grader. He's already having a blast with his pages. In addition to many of the same features as the regular journal, it has simplified activities, coloring pages, and copy work selections. I asked Jeannie how parents should decide which level of journal to use for each child. She replied, "There is not a suggested age range for the two journals, rather a suggested abilities guideline. If a child is writing with proficiency, the regular journal is recommended. For the child that is still mastering the basics of handwriting and is not a proficient writer, the Junior Journal is recommended. My oldest child could have done the regular journal in second grade with ease. My boys could not have done the regular journal until fifth grade. So, it's really an abilities question, rather than an age question. All things being equal, I would say in a typical situation, the Junior Journal would be great for K - 3rd and the regular journal for 4th - 8th grade."

Near the end of each chapter you will find a "What Do You Remember?" section with several questions to use for simple oral narration. (There is a place in the Journal to record these, too, if you wish.) When I was flipping through the book, I found sample answers for these questions on pages 253-257. I'm just making sure you see these, because they will make the process easier for you as a teacher! I also like the fact that at various places in each chapter, there are blue words indicating natural places for a quick oral narration on what the student has heard so far. With Jeannie's conversational style and creative explanations, you will be amazed at how much they can understand. Here is one small example about your conchae. Never heard of it? Neither had I! Well, let's learn from the book! "As the air travels up your noise, it hits your conchae (kong' kee). Have you ever seen a conch shell? Well, that's what your conchae is named after. That's because a conch shell passage has twists and turns, just like the passages formed by the conchae in your nasal cavity. God has a special reason for creating your nasal cavity this way. Your conchae interrupt the air flow, making it travel like a twisting roller coaster -- going this way and that way, slamming against the mucus in the nasal cavity to make sure dust is removed. Sounds fun, doesn't it? As the air hits the walls of your noise, it also gets heated by the warm tissue found there!" (This text is accompanied by a very helpful diagram!)

The first lesson, which is an introduction to the human body, talks about how different historical cultures approached anatomy, from the Egyptians who dissected and mummified dead bodies, up through how Robert Hooke developed the microscope well enough to see cells. (Did you know that he borrowed the science word "cell" from monastery cells, because that is what cork cells looked like?) This historical backgrund transitions into a lesson on the anatomy of a cell with all of its organelles. The human cell is compared to a small city, with the membrane "gatekeeper" that guards the boundaries, mitochondria "power plants" that burn fuel, lysosome "policemen" who conquer invading enemies, endoplasmic reticulum "mailmen" and "garbage collectors" who deliver supplies and carry away trash, golgi body "grocery stores" that deliver food, centriole "mothers" who reproduce themselves, and the nucleus "government" that directs all of the organalles in their duties. This analogy made the material very engaging and easy to understand for the kids and for me! They had a lot of fun drawing and labeling each organelle in their Notebooking Journals.

I also love the hands-on projects in this text. My kids are already drooling at the thought of the cell model we will make out of Jello and candies later this week. (Note: After I wrote this post, we did make the cell model. Lots of fun! See left for the picture of our yummy creation. If you want a healthier version, I'm sure you could make the various kinds of organelles out of fresh fruit instead of Skittles, Twizzlers, Nerds, etc.) Like the cell model for the first lesson, each chapter has a substantial but not overwhelming experiment or project at the end, such as analyzing a chicken bone for the skeleton lesson. Some of these experiments will require you to obtain supplies that you might not already have around the house, such as a small amount of 2% iodine solution to test fruits for vitamin C content in the nutrition lesson. A complete master list of necessary supplies, organized by lesson, is conveniently located on page 15-17 of the text. In addition to the major projects, there are also multiple simple "Try This!" activities in each chapter, such as trying to talk without moving your tongue, and then your lips, and then your jaw.

One other thing I love about this book is that it is so practical! It gives kids tips on how to take care of their own bodies, such as how to treat a wound, choose healthy foods, avoid heat exhaustion, the dangers of smoking, etc. It also teaches them about the signs of a heart attack so they can get help if someone they know might be having one. This could save a life!

Jeannie told me, "This was one of my favorite books to write. Though it was a longer process in the making, being the first book I produced under the new leadership at Apologia, I believe it is the finest of all my books. I'm really excited about its potential to influence children in their faith as they learn about the amazing design of their own bodies."

When I asked her to share about the new owners of Apologia, she replied, "Davis and Rachael Carman are exactly who I would have chosen to be my publishers and to carry Apologia into the new era of homeschooling, growing the business with Christ honoring products and a vision to fortify the homeschool community. They are a godsend to me. It would take pages for me to describe all the ways they have blessed me and my family, as well as Apologia. I could not do these two people justice in a short paragraph. I recommend everyone try to get to an Apologia Live conference and get to know this couple first hand to get a glimpse of their godly love for the homeschool community and for God's people. They are genuine and nothing short of a gift from God to the homeschool community. I believe their vision for Apologia is straight from the Lord and I look forward to seeing how God will use this company to bless, encourage and build up the homeschool community."

What a blessing! It would be really fun to go to one of Apologia's live inspirational conferences for home school moms in Baltimore, Chicago or Atlanta. I think Sally Clarkson, who is also an Apologia author, will be speaking at the one in Chicago in October. Read more at

Click here to read more about the Carman family, as well as other Apologia authors and speakers.

I could go on and on about why I love this book. For now, I'll just say how thrilled I am that I chose this as our core elementary science curriculum for the year. I have a bunch of supplementary books about the human body on my shelves, but this text and notebooking journal will tie everything together in an way which will make our science education SO much more effective. If your kids haven't learned much about the human body yet, why not this year?

You can order the text and journals from any of these sites:

The author:  
While you're at her site, sign up to receive Jeannie's inspirational home schooling newsletters!
Click here to see web pages for Human Anatomy and PhysiologyText Book and Notebooking Journal

The publisher:
At this site, you can access the table of contents, sample modules, lab list.
Click here to see web pages for Human Anatomy and Physiology Text Book and Notebooking Journal.

A discount supplier: Christian Book Distributors
At this site, you can access the table of contents and see pages from the books.
Human Anatomy and Physiology text
Click here to see web pages for Human Anatomy and Physiology Text Book and Notebooking Journal


If you have used this curriculum, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Virginia Knowles
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