Thursday, May 15, 2014

3 Reasons We Study Primary Sources

Free Bill of Rights and Preamble Printable

Time Saver: Order a ready to use Preamble and Bill of Rights here


"The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~Aristotle

Studying primary sources first establishes a knowledge base rooted in the facts. A personal perspective can then be formed, and secondary sources strategically introduced.  


 "An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot." ~Thomas Paine

Not only must we learn the principles, but the context in which those principles were formed.  Studying a primary source means we study people, places, and events connected to it.


"The Bible must be considered as the great source of all truth which men are to be guided in government as well as in all social transactions." ~Noah Webster

Principles and truth are inseparable, and both are found within primary sources.

2 More Reasons...

  • Collecting and using primary sources simplifies our curriculum, as well as our home library.  

  • Primary sources are universal tools spanning across subjects and forming a connection between them.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Documents (Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution)

  • Bible

  • Artifacts

  • Maps

  • People (Meeting & Interviewing, Journals, Recordings)

  • Nature

Class Discussion

What are your favorite primary sources? 

Happy Homeschooling!

Mrs. Redd

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If I Could Pick Only One: My #1 Mastery Tool Pick For Art & Music

The subjects of Art and Music are themselves a tool for mastery by their very nature.

Creativity Crusher

The speed at which supplies accumulate is astonishing.  Especially when you are a nerdy mom like me whose favorite things in the world are brand new pens and notebooks.  I will choose a Back to School sale on supplies over a shoe sale any day (and I love shoes, too!).  


Clutter is my arch enemy!

Clutter stifles creativity by taking up precious work space and clogging up the learning atmosphere. It is simply all my ideas for projects manifested in the physical state.  

It's a slick fellow too, creeping in without me realizing it and then it's too late.  

It. Must. Go.

Time to Evaluate

I put the items in our arsenal to the test:  

  • How much do the kids love it? 
  • Do I love it?
  • Does it generate more or less work?
  • How many purposes can it serve?
  • Is it expensive or hard to find?

Drum Roll, Please

The winner for Best Art Supply is:  


Here's Why:

  • The kids absolutely and unconditionally love to play with clay.
  • It's a no-fail activity:   I can whip out the clay box anytime, take it anywhere, and apply it to any subject.
  • It's convenient.  Easily accessible and easily cleaned up.

And here's a real gem of a bonus:

When their little hands are busy molding masterpieces, their little ears tune in to Mommy.  Yes, that's right, they listen

Music to My Ears

For us, musical items don't tend to pile up, so I really don't have much to purge there.  I will, however, name our favorite tool for this subject too.

Background Music

  • Instrumental music CD's we found at Dollar Tree have been a priceless asset to our home. There are familiar classics, nature, upbeat, relaxing and patriotic albums.  If you want to create an atmosphere, this is the way to do it.  

How we use it:
I've been able to attach a different CD to each day according to the daily theme.  For example, we listen to patriotic music on Thursday, our Social Studies day.

  • Nursery rhymes and activity songs are a hit even with the older kids because they get to teach the actions to their little brother. 

How we use it:  

I turn on the CD to start our day on a positive note.  The lively songs help get the "wiggles" out, and we all get a little exercise in.  

Class Discussion

Post photos of your kids creating over at Mrs. Redd's Classroom Facebook page!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Vocabulary Building: The Ultimate Skill & The Key to Vocabulary Success

In Prior Knowledge: The Missing Pieces to the Big Picture, I mentioned that math fact memorization is essential to math because it creates reference points for higher math learning later on.  The same is true for vocabulary building, except that it encompasses all manner of subjects.  

That's why maintaining a well-funded vocabulary bank is a fundamental literacy skill

A Wealth of Knowledge

Think of vocabulary building as maintaining a line of credit:

You have been awarded with an unlimited amount of words to spend, and you pay back what you have used by depositing new words into the account.

The Key to Vocabulary Success

Learn new words however you learn them best, but the only way your deposit will be credited to your account is through using those words:  
  • Incorporate new words into daily conversations.  It's ok if the word sounds forced at first.  In fact, this is ideal.  It shows you are practicing.

  • Use the new words in some form of writing.  Think of writing new information down as engraving it on the brain.

  • Play games that you can insert the word into (Scrabble, Pictionary, Bingo, etc.)

Class Discussion

We learn new languages by building vocabulary like you would teach your native language to a child learning to speak.  

Which foreign languages are you learning?

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Prior Knowledge: The Missing Pieces to the Big Picture

Memory Lane

I remember little things my dad taught me, such as how to color like a pro and to button up from the bottom.  Whether he knew it or not, those little tidbits held more insight than just their literal meanings as helpful hints.

Find the Flat Edge Pieces

My dad and I would put puzzles together, and his advice was to find all the flat edge pieces first.  This way you could put together the frame and have starting points for filling in the rest of the puzzle. 

Just like I always draw a crayon outline inside the lines of the picture and color evenly in the same direction, I  begin each puzzle by finding the flat edge pieces.

The Big Picture

I have a vision, although not as clear as the one printed on a puzzle box, of our educational journey's destination.  All the tiny pieces are jumbled up inside my head and in my notes.  

Over the better part of the last decade though, I have been sorting through those pieces to find the flat edges to build a frame for our Big Picture Puzzle.  

Those flat edge pieces are the prior knowledge we need to have in order to fill in the rest of the picture.  

A Simple Strategy

After I find the flat edges, I like to sort my puzzle pieces by grouping ones with similar attributes.  It's a given that I will find entire sections of the puzzle this way, and simplify the process.  

This method works, and I use it consistently.

I use memorization as a simple strategy to acquire prior knowledge, and build the outer edge of our Big Picture. 

Math Fact Memorization

Math fact memorization is essential to forming connections from the math category of our Big Picture Puzzle.

Here's why:  

  • By doing the work initially to memorize the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, we are eliminating extra work later on when we are trying to focus on more abstract mathematical concepts. 

  • The kids get an academic confidence boost from knowing the answer.  This creates a positive association with math and learning in general.

  • By learning how to learn when they are practicing and reciting math facts, the kids are learning a basic skill that will carry them not only through math, but life in general.

Warning Label

Memorization should be used wisely.  It is not a universal tool.  It is best used on essential information with the intent to make learning more efficient.

Children need to comprehend and make connections, and the purpose of memorization is to create reference points to connect with.  

Class Discussion

Share some parental pointers you remember from your childhood in the comments.

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Math Links:

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Science of Literacy: The Solution That Could Save the World

A World of Trouble

It is overwhelming to consider the problems our world faces, but for every problem there is a solution that awaits discovery. Simply because we don't see the answer, does not mean it isn't there.  

Solutions at the Cellular Level

For all the problems, though, don't you think there are enough potentially brilliant people on this magnificent earth who are capable of finding solutions? 

Literacy is like a single cell that through a process of doubling itself eventually forms an entire being.

Planting Magic Beans

Plant a seed of literacy in someone's mind and nurture it. The world will harvest innovation and discovery because of you. 

Class Discussion

Set a goal for the number of people you intend to help become literate or improve their literacy skills and share it in the comments.  My number is 100.

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Purposeful Literacy: A 3-Point Perspective

As I've grown with my children, I have learned that there is much more to education, literacy, and parenting in general than I ever imagined.  

First Things First

We must teach with purpose, but we must be clear on what that purpose is before we can succeed.

This is my philosophy on literacy and its significance.

Literacy is a life skill.

Just like potty training, eating and dressing independently, a child must develop strong literacy skills to be a fully functioning adult and have a strong foundation for further education.

Literacy is a responsibility.

One of our civic duties is to raise responsible and motivated adults to ensure a free society and better future. A child who is prepared with effective literacy skills can help find solutions rather than be part of the problem.

Literacy is a privilege.

In our culture, literacy is encouraged and supported for everyone.  We are even free to choose what we learn and where we learn it.  That is not the case in other parts of the world.  

We must remain a literate society in order to protect this privilege, and to spread literacy to those who are not as fortunate.

Class Discussion

What do you think of my literacy philosophy?     



Want to add something?  

Don't be shy! Tell me in the comments.

Happy Homeschooling!

A Short Social Study on Literacy

Literacy from a social standpoint is more than a worthy cause.  It is a parental responsibility that if left unfulfilled has detrimental effects on society as a whole.  

Rule of Thumb:

 A free society is an educated society, and a peaceful world is a free world.

Class Discussion

Comment "agree" if you agree.  Explain if you disagree.

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Saturday, February 15, 2014

3 Ways Art & Music Reinforce Literacy Skills

Growing Roots

 Literacy is the root that supplies the skills necessary for mastery in all other subjects, and mastery depends on Art and Music as skill reinforcement.

3 Ways Art and Music Encourage Literacy

1.  Sensory Involvement:  The more senses you incorporate, the better the chances of mastery by allowing multiple opportunities to experience the topic.

2.  Positive Association:  A joyful experience creates a positive connection which ups the odds of retention.

TIP:  We devote Wednesday as Art and Music because it is a midweek morale booster:
  • We start the week looking forward to Art & Music Day.
  • We finish the week revamped from the excitement of Art & Music Day.

3.  Real World Application:  Art and music are a part of every day life, so it makes sense to use them as a catalyst.

Class Discussion

My kids love clay and paint.  What are the favorite mediums in your home?  Share in the comments!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

7 Tips For Mastering Reading Fluency

Reading Fluency Subskills

I defined Reading Fluency as the ability to read smoothly and accurately while comprehending what is read

In order to master a concept, we must break it down into its basic components.  The underlying skills of Reading Fluency are:

  • Reading with confidence
  • Voice inflection
  • Phonetic awareness

7 Tips For Mastering Reading Fluency

1.  Read aloud-both of you.

Read to your child every day, as often as possible.  Read them books they love, introduce new ones you think they will enjoy, and have them read to you. 

2.  Speak properly.

Hold meaningful conversations with your child, even very young ones will try.  Speak clearly and in complete sentences, and expect the same in return.  Your toddler may not be able to yet, but it won't take long if you are consistent.

3.  Point out punctuation.

It will take a few times, but soon they will be pausing at commas and getting excited at exclamation points.  

4.  Have a mood swing.

Maybe not literally. Being a tad dramatic with emotions and the tone of the story will not only demonstrate putting feeling into the words, but it will also aid in comprehension.

5.  Teach phonics, not sight words.

Teaching a child to memorize a word does not help them with new words they encounter, knowing how the sounds work together to form words, does.   

6.  Write regularly.

Writing reinforces reading and vice verse.  

7.  Make positive associations with reading and writing.

Read books about topics that interest your child, and be enthusiastic every time they bring you a book.  It only takes a minute to read a short children's book.  Keep them stocked in reading material also.

Class Discussion

Do you have a struggling or reluctant reader? Share your concerns in the comments and I'll help you find solutions!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Monday, February 10, 2014

5 Literacy Skills to Master For Math Success

Do I Really Want to Know?

We all love it when our kids tell us we have hit a home run with an idea.  But what about when we just know they aren't going to like something we have to cover? 

I went feedback fishing on our recent encounter with story problems (envisioning piranhas devouring my lesson plans), and this is what I caught: 

"They're easy. They're like mystery stories," said the young mathematician who is a recovering reluctant reader/writer.

"Me too!  The clues help me figure it out," said my older advanced reader who, earlier in the week, was reduced to tears over the necessity of math fact memorization.

That fish is getting mounted over the mantle.


I pondered this over laundry, and decided this was no happy accident.  I am doing something right.  

The Hypothesis

If we build a solid foundation in literacy skills while learning the fundamentals of other subjects during the primary years, we will make a smooth transition into more complex subject matter when the time comes.  

5 Literacy Skills You Need For Math

These 5 basic literacy skills are imperative to success in math:

1.  Reading Fluency is the ability to read smoothly and accurately.

2.  Having a High Vocabulary is to possess and continue to grow a vast vocabulary knowledge. 

3.  Reading Comprehension is to understand and organize information within a text and having the ability to derive information from context. 

4.  Critical Thinking is the ability to think logically and creatively in order to solve problems and come to conclusions not only from reading but in any situation.

5.  Communication Skills include the ability to speak and write clearly to effectively share information and ideas.

Class Discussion

I'm looking for creative activities that link literacy and math.  Please share some ideas in the comments!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Math Links:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Basics of Mastery: Introduction to Setting Strategies

Setting Up For Literacy Success

Setting Strategies is a sub-series of The Basics of Mastery.  There are two parts to this sub-series:

1.   Designing Literacy Stations
2.   Designing Literacy Learning Strategies

Learning Environments and Learning Strategies are intertwined, and a plan is necessary in order to successfully synchronize the two.  Setting Strategies will guide you through:

  • The Key Elements of Any Learning Station 
  • Personalizing Your Literacy Station
  • Transporting Literacy: Don't Leave Home Without It
  • How to Design Your Own Literacy Curriculum

Setting Strategies Series Objectives

By writing and sharing this series based on my personal experiences, I intend to...
  • Give you a template for designing Learning Stations within your home learning environment.
  • Show you the importance of, and ways to create, a home Literacy Station that develops and maintains a positive perception of reading and writing.
  • Share simple activities specific to the Toddler, Primary, and Upper Elementary age groups that ensure literacy skills are practiced daily, can be made portable, and will help form lifelong learning habits.
  • Show you how we have taught our children to read and instilled a love of learning and literacy without purchasing a curriculum.

Stay Tuned...

Here's what you can do this week to prepare for next week's Setting Strategies post:

  • Get inspired through my related Pinterest boards that I've linked to throughout this post.
  • Write down your literacy goals for yourself and your children.

Class Discussion

In The Basics of Mastery: Where Do I Begin?, I wrote that literacy is more than reading and writing.  

How do you define literacy?  Please share in the comments!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Posts on Mastery:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

6 Kid-Friendly Tree Activities

I couldn't keep my kiddos out of the trees this past summer, so I added some tree-related activities to the list in their Nature Study Bag.  

Here are 5 interesting activities for the junior arborist:

1. Find the age of a tree (or branch).

  • Count the rings on a tree stump or where a branch has been cut.  
  • Record observations through drawings and notes about the type of tree, its location, etc.
  • Consider the thickness of each band. 
    • Thin means the tree didn't grow much that year.
    • Thick means it was a good year for growth.
  • Research the weather and growing conditions, then compare the results to what the tree's rings indicate.
  • Find another tree estimated to be around the same age, and compare its bands to the first tree.

2.  Leaf Collecting Activities
  • Collect leaves from neighborhood trees and other places you visit.  
  • Preserve them and display in frames or a scrapbook, and include information about the type of tree, the date, and location.
  • Create a collage, mobile, local tree guide, or make leaf rubbings.
  • Observe leaf cells under a microscope, and compare the cells of different types of leaves.

3.  Tell a tree's life story.
  • Find an interesting tree-one that has been struck by lightening, fallen down, or is gnarled and twisted.
  • Draw the tree and color or paint it.
  • Record what you know about the tree: location, type of tree, what happened to it.
  • Write a story or poem about the tree and how it came to look that way.

4.  Use your senses.
  • Gather leaves and bark samples from a variety of trees.
  • Observe how each specimen looks, feels, and smells.  
  • Record the information about each specimen (what kind of tree, location, date, etc.) and describe the way it looks, feels, and smells.

5.  What does a tree do?
  • Find a big tree and observe what is going on in and around it.
  • Record the activity around the tree in your nature journal through drawings or notes.
  • Research the creatures you observe, and find out how the tree helps those animals.
  • List the jobs a tree has, then turn the list into a diagram or poster.

6.  Try tree watching.
  • Find an interesting tree or a treeline.
  • Observe the scene from the same place once a month or every three months.  
  • Record the appearance of the tree through drawings, notes, and photography.
  • Present your observations as a photo or drawing collage, scrapbook, or slideshow.
  • Try this with a newly planted tree, and record the tree's changes as it ages.

Class Discussion

Do you have a tree story? Share it in the comments!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Science Links:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who Are We, And Where Did We Come From?

As we study the great minds and events of our American and world history, we are also zooming in to take a closer look at who we are as family members and citizens of our community.

If you are just starting out on your home education adventure or need a fresh idea, look no further than your family and neighborhood.  

Photography School

We have been blessed with an abundance of family photographs, and our plethora of pictures is a genealogical gold mine.  We are in the organization and planning phase of an enormous family history project that could quite possibly carry us through until the kids graduate.

Not only will we use skills from all the academic subjects, but we will also create a family heirloom and tradition for generations to come.  I've even created a separate blog to journal the project.

Local Yocal

It would be impossible to attempt our family history project without delving into some local history and geography also.  

Thanks to the kid-friendly Grover Museum and Shelby County Public Library we can work on our projects as a family. 

Psst! The Grover Museum has free root beer floats in the Emporium of the Streets of Old Shelby exhibit on the third Saturday of every month!

Class Discussion

Let's take a roll call: post your state in the comments.

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

20 Ideas For Literature Based Art Projects

In 5 Novel Ideas For Novel Studies you won't see many art project ideas.  That's because I have enough activity suggestions to fill a whole other post! 

Read on for a categorized list of 20 art projects you can do to get the kids excited about reading.

3D Art

Use clay, play dough, salt dough, paper mache, recycled materials, items from nature, and other objects to create: 

  • Dioramas
  • Freestanding Collages
  • Mobiles
  • Models
  • Maps
  • Handmade Books

Play Sets

Keep books alive by creating reusable play sets:
  • Puppet Theater
  • Dollhouse, Castle, Barnyard, etc.
  • Paper Dolls
  • Sensory Bins
  • Travel Toys
  • Costumes & Masks
  • Games

Wall Art

Deck the walls with images straight from the pages:
  • Sketches / Colored Pencil Drawings
  • Setting Landscapes
  • Character / Author Portraits
  • Silhouettes
  • Hanging Collages
  • Zentangles
  • Cubism Drawings

Class Discussion

How do you incorporate art into your literature lessons?  Please share!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Art & Music Links:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

5 Novel Ideas for Novel Studies

Book Report Schmook Report

Ban the boring book reports!  Even I, a self-proclaimed nerd and dubbed a "worm in the book" by my young daughters, recoil at the idea of reading a book and writing a report on it. Therefore, I pledge to shield my children from such a mundane chore for the sake of learning.

Here are my ideas for studying a book:

Pick Up a Book

  • Look Locally:  Seek out local authors of past or present and titles that are set in your area. 
  • Classic Beauty:  The classics are timeless for a reason.
  • Animal Antics:  I have found that the primary grades enjoy tales with animals for characters.  
  • Library Limelight:  Which books are currently featured by your local library?

Note:  always screen the books my children read, and I highly recommend you do the same.  An award or a spot on the bestseller list does not mean it is automatically included in our curriculum.  The book must fall within our personal content boundaries.

Read It

I read aloud the books I want to make sure the kids are exposed to.  I have not encountered one yet that they have not wanted to read again on their own.  I let them choose their own free time reading materials (with approval, of course.)


Here are 5 activities that have been kid tested and approved here at Mrs. Redd's Classroom:
  • Set the Scene:  If your book is based in your locality you probably have most of the work done for you since most communities offer resources that celebrate their homegrown authors. If not, try to connect your surroundings to the setting of the book in some way.

  • Paint a Picture: Demonstrate how words paint pictures in your mind by reading aloud a descriptive section of your book and have the kids paint a picture of what they "see" as you read. Make it 3D with a diorama or model.

  • Mind Games:  Use vocabulary words for spelling bees, bingo games, mad libs and dictionary dash.  Act out scenes in charades or picitionary.  

  • What If:  Ask "What if...?" at plot twists and rewrite the ending or draw what might have happened.

  • Create a Collage:  Take a piece of cardboard and collect anything and everything that could possibly pertain to the book and glue it on there.  This is an excellent way to use up some of those miscellaneous toys, puzzle and game pieces you find scattered about.  We have a "Missing Pieces" jar for such projects.  

Class Discussion

How do you breathe life into the books your kids read? Please share!

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Language Arts Links:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Our Manic Monday Math Lesson

Stuff happens, and sometimes we need a trusty go-to lesson.  For us, it is the game I Spy.  The kids love it, and there are infinite variations.

Here is how I apply it to math basics when we have a manic Monday:

1.  Grab the camera and/or pencil and paper.

2.  Give the kids a specific math concept to look for.  Give them a list and you have an instant Math Scavenger Hunt.

3.  Turn them loose or go with them.  It can be done inside or out, in the backyard or out on a walk.

Here is a list of some basic math concepts to hunt for:
  • Patterns
  • Shapes 
  • Numbers
  • Examples of even and odd numbers
  • Examples of operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • Examples of sorting and classification
  • Measurement terms and concepts (heavy/light, long/short, etc.)

Follow Up Projects

  • Create a deck of cards with images and descriptions of the concepts to find. 
  • Make an I Spy Bag with everything already packed up.
  • Make decks of cards for other subjects to throw in the I Spy Bag.
  • Turn your photos into coloring books.

Class Discussion

Share your Manic Any-Day Lessons in the comments.

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Basics of Mastery: Where do I Begin?

Digging Deeper

The How Do I Teach For Mastery? series gave you an overview of the concept of mastery, and now I want to delve into it with more detail.  

Let's Review

In Mastery Teaching Simplified, I listed the 3 Steps to Mastery Teaching:

1.  Identify the basic concepts to be learned.
2.  Create a plan.
3.  Evaluate and adjust.

What Am I Going to Teach?

When we break down education into its individual subjects (math, science, etc.), we find that there is one essential element that cannot be neglected: literacy.


  • Is the ability to read and write effectively 
  • Is the key to learning all other subjects
  • Leads to proficiency in communication 
  • Is more than just reading and writing

Where Do I Begin?

1.  What is your literacy level?  

You must set an example.  If you aren't doing so, grab a book and start reading for yourself - and read to your child regularly.  If you aren't writing (by hand!), get a notebook and start a journal.  

2.  What is your child's literacy level?  

Does your child...

  • Read daily?
  • Discuss what they have read with you?
  • Look up new words on their own?
  • Feel comfortable reading aloud?
  • Hold meaningful conversations with others, including adults?
  • Speak in complete sentences?
  • Write daily?
  • Write legibly?
  • Write in various forms? (Lists, notes, stories, poems, letters, etc.)

The Next Steps

Class Discussion

Right now we are reading:

Me: Atlas Shrugged 
DD1: Harry Potter Series
DD2: Fairytales

What are you reading?

Happy Homeschooling!
Mrs. Redd

More Language Arts Links:

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