Easing Back Into School via Ninjas

Yes that’s right friends, ninjas.  
Our boys had a busy start to the summer with a vacation in Florida, a visit with family in Georgia and then family visiting us in Texas. When all the excitement died down at the end of July, boredom crept in and they started getting antsy. August is brutally hot this time of year in Central Texas with temps hovering around 100 degrees so we don’t get outside as much as I would like. About three weeks ago I suggested we start school a little early and to my surprise the boys jumped excitedly at the idea. So the following Monday, August 1st, we started our first day of school. 

Cullen learning to spell very important words.

I really wanted to ease into our school year for all our sakes. The boys had very little structure over the summer and it can be hard initiating a daily school schedule when there is not a finite separation between home and school. I also knew I would be working much more in depth with Cullen and wanted to see how he responded to sitting at the table for a project or listening to a story with more difficult vocabulary than he was accustomed to. Factor in a now mobile baby sister, and the upcoming school year was looking a little daunting. 

Labeling the five Chinese elements.

I’m a big fan of child-led learning. It’s one of the many things that drew me to homeschool. I believe we naturally apply ourselves more when we are interested in a subject matter. Obviously, there are things that need to be learned no matter the interest level but I’ve found that with a little creativity, you can take a child’s interest and turn it into an extensive lesson plan encompassing a multitude of subjects. Since I hadn’t planned on starting school until mid August, I decided to give the boys free reign on subject matter for the first three weeks of school. I asked them what they would like to learn more about and was met with the unanimous answer of ninjas. I wasn’t the least bit prepared for this answer. I thought for sure it would be animals or the ocean or something else science related. 
Ninjas it was and there was no way I was going to talk them out of it. 

Korean and Chinese numbers.

Both my boys take karate which I’m pretty sure led to the fascination of ninjas so I decided to start there. The form of karate they practice is called Tang Soo Do which is a Korean style karate with some Chinese influences. All the commands are given in Korean and they are required to learn these as well as many other words as they progress in belt rank. Thanks to our awesome instructors and karate manual, Draven learned several new commands in Korean and we worked with Cullen on counting to ten in Korean. 

Cullen practiced spelling simple words by both writing and using letter blocks. Draven has been vocal about wanting to learn Chinese as well so we practiced writing the five Chinese characters that are represented on the Tang Soo Do flag (foreign language and spelling…BOOM!)

Some of Draven’s finished work. We painted the background of our papers beforehand with watercolors.

We also worked on memorizing the Eight Key Concepts of Tang Soo Do and their school’s Student Creed that the boys will be expected to know for future belt tests (memorization, handwriting and art…BOOM!)

A few exploding ninja stars along with the karate school’s Student Creed.

There were a few days we snuck in some real fun. I let the boys play ninjas while their baby sister was sleeping and gave them tasks to complete like army crawling under and around things and collecting weapons (picking up toys). This is an awesome quiet time game because ninjas are super sneaky and quiet. We also found an easy tutorial via 

Youtube on making exploding ninja stars and had a blast throwing them at the fence outside (arts and crafts, science and hand-eye coordination…BOOM!)

Cullen testing out a ninja star.

Several days I read aloud about China from The Story of the World and Draven worked independently through two Magic Tree House Fact Tracker books, one on Ninjas and Samurai and the other on China. The Fact Tracker books never disappoint – they are chock full of history in a fun to read and easy to understand format.

A little free reading on our subject matter, sporting karate pants of course.

We also used our Pin It Map to label China and it’s rivers, mountain range, desert and adjoining seas. Draven drew and labeled his own map of China with a narration from The Story of the World (history, geography and language arts…BOOM!)

Pinning various landforms and bodies of water in China and east Asia.

Our final projects will be finished this week and are original pieces by the boys culminating all they have learned in our three week unit study. Draven is writing a fiction book titled The Ninjas Versus the Samurai. Cullen is working on several artistic ninja pencil drawings (it’s okay, you can laugh).

. Both have high aspirations of selling their finished products (creative writing, handwriting and art…BOOM!)

We spent about 1-2 hours a day for what will be three weeks. It was a lot more educational than I thought it would be and a ton of fun. Both the boys were really engaged and that’s not always an easy feat with a 7 and 4 year old. I would definitely encourage a project like this even if you don’t homeschool. It’s a great way to learn more about your child’s interests and just get them excited about learning. Deep down I think we all just want our kids to find something they are passionate about. Something that stirs their soul. Their interests most certainly will change as they grow and mature but it’s never to early to light that fire and instill a love of learning. 

Homeschool Planning, Expectations and Child-Led Learning

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our first year of homeschooling and what worked best for us. There were days that went so well and others that went terribly. I have a tendency to force things sometimes, particularly art and handwriting. I have this idea of how things should look and sometimes I forget that I’m working with a 7 and 4 year old…

The two things that could ruin a perfectly good day were – not planning our day out and having unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. As I plan for the upcoming year, I am constantly taking these two things into consideration. 

A few living history books we will read this year. Many more are on my Amazon list or will be checked out from the library.

Last year my oldest, Draven, was in 1st grade and we used Ambleside’s curriculum guide that follows Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching. I have really grown to love the use of what Charlotte Mason describes as living books to teach children a range of subjects from history to geography to science and beyond. Oftentimes you can combine subjects with living books. 

A few months into last school year I made adjustments as some of the books have difficult language for a six year old, and sometimes for his mom as well. This year I’m feeling a bit more adventurous and have created my own syllabus based around living books and tailored to our interests (a copy is at the bottom of this post if you can’t wait). I did keep a few books Ambleside suggested and we are following their bible guideline because I think it’s spot on. 

Read aloud literature selections for Draven. The third book from the left is My Side of the Mountain, one of my husband’s favorite childhood books.

We won’t follow the syllabus exactly every week but it will be used asmore of a guideline so we don’t leave anything important out and stay on track for the year. We may not even get to everything because sometimes we end up spending longer on a book or subject matter or discover something else that interests us. This is where child-led learning comes in and where it’s important for me to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve created our curriculum around my children’s current interests, I’ve also left room for things that spark new interests and am willing to deviate a little from our original plan. So keep in mind as I share my syllabus, that it is a working document and will most likely be edited several times as our interests develop. My plan is to share resources, successes and failures throughout the year. 

Independent reading for Draven based on current interests.

Our day starts around 7:30 with breakfast. I typically read a few poems aloud while they eat. We don’t analyze anything at this time, just read and enjoy the words. We also work on memorization before leaving the table. For September we will be reciting The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and Karate Concepts 1-4 (something they must memorize for belt tests at their karate school). After breakfast we move to the backyard or living room to practice yoga. My kids love doing yoga with me and especially enjoy meditating. This doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes and it’s a great way to get focused for the day. They may practice their karate forms at this time as well. We always end our yoga time with prayer and daily intentions. 

Give Your Child the World has over 600 book recommendations from around the world. We will be studing a continent each month using these books and also working through our Pin It Maps curriculum.

The majority of our work is done between 8:30 and 12. Draven will work on math independently after a little instruction (we use Math Mammoth) and I will give Cullen his reading lesson (we are working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). I realize it’s early to teach reading (Cullen is 4) but he is very interested so we will through the lessons as long as he stays engaged. I will read aloud several stories for both boys and we will work on a map project (using Pin It Maps) or watercolor painting. We use Waldorf’s wet on wet water coloring technique. It’s quite easy and always turns out beautiful (expectations friends).

Examples of Draven’s original books, narrations and science diagrams from last year.

The kids will then have a bit of free time to play while I get lunch ready. After lunch, the paintings are dry and we use them as base for Draven to write his narration and Cullen to write letters and simple words. They create beautiful backgrounds for their work. If you’re unfamiliar with narration, it is simply the retelling of a story back in your own words. This is our writing, grammar and spelling rolled into one activity. Last year, I had Draven tell me each narration after a story while I wrote it down. I read it back to him and we made changes together before he copied it onto his paper. As he copied, we focused mainly on handwriting and punctuation. This year he will be writing his narrations from memory which is much more difficult but will allow us to go deeper with grammar and sentence structure.  After the boys are done writing, they will add an illustration to go with their story.
A few of our favorite science resources. The open book on the bottom left is Cellular Biology by Super Smart Science Series. I highly recommend these books! The boys also enjoy working through the Awesome Science Experiments and playing with their circuit board.

After narrations are complete, the boys may work on a science project, craft project, or Spanish, which is done Online through Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids. This is their only source of technology in our school day and a treat they look forward to.
Read aloud selections for Cullen. The top right book is The Jesus Storybook Bible which has the sweetest stories and most beautiful illustrations. My other favorite is Over the Hills and Far Away, a collection of nursery rhymes from around the world.

Mixed in throughout the day, the boys are helping with household chores and their baby sister. Cullen may play with Storie while Draven and I read a difficult book and Draven may read books with Storie while Cullen and I practice sounding out words. 

Several of our nature study resources. Much of our free play will be centered outside in the garden or on nature walks. The brown nature journals are by Molskin. We use colored pencils to draw and label plants and animals.

We are so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful co-op this year that meets every Monday for additional literature, art and science studies. We also attend classes at our local library and parks, lead a Wild Explorers Club, regularly go on field trips, train in karate and Draven will begin guitar lessons this fall.

Below is our syllabus for September which outlines our core reading, written work, memorization and all other activities. I also created a weekly schedule to reference until we get back into the flow of regular school days. I’m happy to send one or both in excel form if you comment below with your email. Currently, I’m researching Waldorf methods for Cullen and Storie and plan on sharing our daily rhythm soon. Happy homeschooling friends!