Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Thursday, March 29, 2018

From the archives: Thrifted homeschooling can be fun

First posted March 2007. This was the fifth and last post in a detailed series about putting random, thrifted materials together to create a year's curriculum for a second- or third-grader. (Slightly edited) 

Those are the science topics, and that's a good place to point out that although this curriculum may be based mainly on books, that doesn't mean that it's not hands-on or interesting. So far I've mentioned social studies/nature field trips, math games, and drawing activities embedded in language lessons; now we can also add science activities, mostly from the Science For Fun Experiments book but drawn from the others as well, including making a pop-bottle insect feeder, a juice-can waterscope, cardboard-tube noisemakers, a magnetic racing game, a drinking-straw hydrometer, a cardboard spinning top, a papier-mache bowl, and "plastic milk." If you have very active children, you can "add action" to many other kinds of lessons as well (as the speaker at a support group meeting recently reminded us), incorporating balls, Nerf guns, and even swords into math and spelling drills.


Because a yo-yo book (Splitting the Atom) was part of the shopping bag, I thought it would work nicely to buy a $3 yo-yo and learn some yo-yo tricks, if that was something that interested the student. Splitting the Atom is a bit on the advanced side, but an interested parent might be able to help an elementary student get started. I thought about what you could learn from a yo-yo (it's very much like a pendulum) and did a search for "science with yo-yos" and "yo-yo physics." Ta-da:  an online search came up with Teaching Science wuth a Yo-Yo (by some smart people at Ball State University), which contains four or five yo-yo physics lessons you can print out. I knew I'd found something good when I saw this comment in Lesson One: "You are already beginning to think like a scientist."


Another book in the bag was Chalk Around the Block, which provides instructions for a variety of hopscotch games as well as marble-shooting, and other games which you could play with a chalked-in outline such as Nine Mens' Morris. (Maybe on an unfinished basement floor if it's too cold to play outside?)

A book called Nursery Rhymes and Songs looked a little too young at first for a third grader, but I found several songs in it that aren't too babyish--actually enough to slot in a new one almost every couple of weeks.

The how-to-draw-animal books have been mentioned already; two are very simple ones and one is more advanced.


For a total of $2.75, I brought home another bag of books to add to the curriculum; my notes on each book are in brackets. (Can you see already why I picked these out?)

The Christmas Secret, by Joan Lexau (a 48-page novel about a Puerto Rican boy in New York) (Perfect age, perfect length, and perfect extra reading for December since we didn't have any holiday books yet.)

Bedtime Bible Stories, published by Kappa Books (All right, it's not Catherine Vos! But if you want to do something beyond the New Testament studies, this includes Old Testament stories, and it's in nice big print although some of the vocabulary might be daunting for a third grader to read independently. This would also be very helpful for the last four weeks of language studies, when I had wanted to do something based on Bible stories.)

The Rat-Catcher's Son
, by Carolyn London (This is a popular Sonlight Curriculum title published by SIM; and strangely enough, this is the second book of Nigerian folktales I found within a month. However, these are told from an evangelical Christian perspective; so they could be added to or mixed with the stories from The Dancing Palm Tree.)

Gage Mathematics Assessment Activities 3B
 (Bad title, useful book written as a series of "challenges" for students. Activities include choosing board games (from a catalogue) with a certain amount of money and so that everyone in your family can play a game; folding a box from a pattern; finding your way on a neighbourhood map; and finding diagonal patterns on a hundred chart. Some activities are too classroom-oriented or are just time-wasters, but I figured about 18 to 20 of the 30 or so activities would be workable and worthwhile, and that gives you one every other week. Not bad for a quarter!)

Thomas Alva Edison, Miracle Maker and The Story of Thomas Alva Edison, Inventor: The Wizard of Menlo Park. (Two elementary-level biographies, so take your pick. Biography! Thinking like a scientist! Nurturing curiosity!)

A free booklet of activities to help parents encourage reading (Pretty basic stuff: visit the library, find creative times to read together, give books for gifts, have the child predict the ending of a story...)

The Story of Creation and Adam & Eve Story, Coloring, Game & Activity Book (Unused! Maybe something to go with the Old Testament stories if you're using them, or just something to play with. This includes paper animals, people and scenery to colour, cut out and prop up.)

You Can Yo-Yo (Less intimidating for third graders than Splitting the Atom.)

Beyond the Paw-paw Trees, by Palmer Brown (A read-aloud)

Getting to Know Nature's Children: Deer/Rabbits (What it sounds like: elementary-level text, not the most compelling I've ever read but it's simply written and nicely photographed.)

Breakthroughs in Science
, by Isaac Asimov (This is the only book that I probably wouldn't use with a third grader--the vocabulary is pretty advanced unless you have a real junior Edison--but I'm including it in the list just to show what a variety of books you can come across when you're hunting.)


Have I gone on too long about an imaginary curriculum that nobody's really going to use? Remember the original reason for this? I've been able to blather on in this much detail about a bunch of books that cost $4.50 plus $4 plus $2.75 (if you count the third trip): $11.25 Canadian. [Oops! I forgot the four books I "fudged" with, and I know they were more like a dollar or two apiece (some booksales don't have such good bargains), so let's add $5 for those.] Plus whatever you pay for the two teacher resources: as much as $20 used, so let's say we're up to $35 [with the four extras]. If you count school supplies in your budget, let's add another $20 at the dollar store for notebooks, glue etc.: $55. And a yo-yo--be generous again and say $5 with tax, so $60. The China study (completely optional) would add another $20 or so, and A Child's Geography would be $10; so maybe $70. Extra supplies such as magnets or better art supplies would be on top of that; you could end up spending a whole hundred dollars for school, maybe. (Not including field trips and computer printouts, obviously.)

But the cost of the basic books is still under $12 [plus the four extras--still under $20]. If I can find them, you can find them; maybe not in one or two trips, but over time. Usually you have to be a bit more patient than I was; you might keep finding easy readers when you're teaching a sixth-grader. But if you have friends, you can look for each other, and share and trade books too. My best advice is, look for good authors that don't age too fast (the books, not the authors).

As a final note of irony, the only "adult" book I picked up on the original thrift shop trip was Ronald J. Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. We are rich. Let's model careful use of resources in the ways we do, or don't, spend homeschool dollars; and we can learn as much from that as our children do from our school lessons.

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