Subject Integration

Subject integration is something that home educators strive for more and more these days.  Topics are not so easily categorized in real life and have a natural overlap. This is why textbooks become dull. They force divisions of topics or disciplines that rob the student of the bigger picture.

Unit studies try to overcome this problem by creating links to other individual disciplines and show what they have in common, but this is also often forced and the child ends up with more worksheets and uninspiring “twaddle.” So, how do we show the integration of subject matter in a natural way that keeps our young learners curious and engaged?

One key way to keep children interested is to NOT give them the answers. In fact, wonder out loud why things were or are a certain way and create an opportunity for detective work to discover the reason! Become detectives and keep a notebook and sketchbook of your findings. Look for possible links of causality or other influences that may have brought about the status quo. What if something happened differently along the way? How may the outcome have changed?  There is no telling which direction your adventure may take you, but you may become a scientist, a researcher, a writer, a historian, a philosopher, an artist, a logician and in some cases, a mathematician (depending on what you’re finding out) in the process.  Go ahead and use the web to find answers, but also investigate by doing, where you can. Let them try things, and draw their own conclusions.

One topic our home school dealt with this year was the issue of creating a passageway from South America to Mexico for cougars – where they could be free to roam without being harmed or hunted. Concern for the animals well being also brought up other questions. What of the cattle they attacked along this corridor? These cattle were owned by ranchers who suffered loss because of it. At times, cougars also attacked people and harmed or killed them. Whose need should take priority, and what could be done to preserve an ecosystem without harming the population nearby? This issue touched on geography, animal science, philosophy, property rights and economy.

Another similar topic was the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and their effect on it. The rivers stabilized in their course because erosion was less of a problem, meadows and woodlands became healthier because the deer population was kept in check and much wildlife, including beavers and rabbits returned to the park. In one case the introduction of wild animals to an area created a problem, and in the latter it solved several!  Again we covered animal science but also learned about ecology and the web of life with its interdependencies. We looked at paintings of landscapes and created artwork with our animal of choice. We also talked about whether it was “bad” or “good” for animals to attack and eat each other, and saw by this example that God’s design worked perfectly when nature as He planned it was kept in balance.

We also learned about how man’s attempt at “fixing problems” could backfire by bringing in a predator bug to destroy another. This was especially true when the predator was introduced from a foreign land. This was also true of plants. Learning about plants and their natural enemies led to a study of gardening and what would attract or repel certain visitors. In our study we looked at kinds of leaves to identify plants, how roots functioned and what nutrition they needed, and what conditions were optimal for creating food.

We learned about the migration habits of birds and butterflies and also the animals of the oceans. As we learned about the ocean currents we also learned about how sailors used these to navigate more quickly between America and Europe. We measured and baked food that the explorers would have eaten during the 17th century and visited an outdoor cultural museum. We watched a movie about early explorers and learned some songs that told about their exploits.

We studied weather and listened to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” while creating a storyboard of a changing  maple tree.

While reading The Trumpet of the Swan, we learned about trumpets and jazz, drew birds (including swans) and learned about flight. We created kites and flew them on a sunny and breezy day, as well.

No, it isn’t easy to buy curriculum for such a method. If you have some good resources – use them as launching points instead of assigned books to be completed because of some arbitrary rule. In fact, you don’t need to purchase much. Instead, you need access to the world around  you, the library, and the Internet. Perhaps even people close to the topic that you can interview!

As they become more advanced they evaluate information based on their research and determine a conclusion. Taking a position they may develop an argument, write up the thesis beginning with the hypothesis, show the process of experimentation or reasoning, give evidence and their conclusion. In doing so, they have followed the scientific method and written a persuasive or expositional paper. All that remains is to publish it (in a family newsletter or website) or a YouTube video, or present it in person to an audience!  Publishing the finished work brings its own reward. Try to do this in a variety of ways.

It doesn’t really matter what topic you choose to begin. It can be what interests your child. As they grow in the process (and you do too), they can be given topics to research. Once they have the tools and are used to it, these assignments will not be so daunting.

I’ve only touched on a few things we covered this year, but you can see by God’s design, all of life is integrated in some way. Seek and learn along with your children. Through your example, inspire them to become life-long learners. Along the way you’ll awaken your own curiosity again. Your imagination and conversations around the dinner table will be richer for it.

A Novel Idea: Constructing the Plot

The PLOT or storyline is a series of events in the order they happen for the reader. “Hook” your reader’s interest by giving them just enough information at first. They will read on because they need to know what will happen next. Tease them from time to time with another complication that must be dealt with or an unanswered question that is a necessary part of the puzzle. Pieces of the puzzle will include both events as they occur and flashbacks to the past.


As a new writer mapping out a plan for your story, it may help think back on memories that stand out in your own life. Use an event you have experienced yourself for the basis of your tale. This will give your story authenticity. Of course, you may change the time, setting, character names and ages, position, etc., to make it a work of fiction. Even as a fictional character, you may write as the narrator, exclusively from your point of view. If you choose to write in the third person and develop motives of other characters, you will need to *step back* from the limits of your own perspective and become empathetic. How would you feel if you were in their shoes, with their background experience? Why do they act as they do? What drives them?

Begin your story in the middle of a problem or impending problem. Craft the structure based on genre. The reader will identify most closely with the hero as they face an obstacle and seek to overcome it. The action rises and falls throughout the tale but the intensity should build to the climax of the story. At that point, the main character achieves their goal and all unresolved matters are satisfied. In the end, all the pieces should make sense, as the pieces of a puzzle coming together create a whole picture!


There are two ways I used to construct a story. One is outlining and the other is Plot Mapping. If a story is linear and the end is understood when the writer begins, an outline works well. You have your character facing a problem, the building difficulties, the moment of salvation and resolution. However, if you have an idea for a story and it’s characters but don’t know how it will end yet, you need to build a plot map. Have you ever watched a detective story where either the criminal or the cop has a bulletin board with photos and newspaper clippings on it, with threads connecting various parts to each other? This is a great way to get the big picture of all the back stories and how they fit together. As I’ve said in a past chapter, at first, keep it to three or four main characters as far as detail goes. But the plot at first can look a bit confusing to the reader, like pieces of tangled thread. As the story progresses, the threads need to connect and make sense. It the end all threads tie together in one conclusion. If you physically do this, with a storyboard, you can keep track of the threads you have yet to connect. This is one way you can think through the process of the unwinding tale as you write it.

One note of caution. Writers that begin a tale not knowing where it will take them often have to rewrite whole sections. JRR Tolkien did this when writing The Lord of the Rings. It is time-consuming! This may be daunting to a beginner, but it is a great exercise. Still, for someone just starting out with story writing, it will be easier to take the perspective of one of the main characters and narrate from your point of view. It will be easier to keep track of the plot and remain consistent, “keeping in character.”

A great way to practice plot development is to base it on a well-known story, such as a parable, fable, or other classic tales. Keep the characters and setting but change the starting point or the story the direction takes. You could also write from a different character’s viewpoint. This kind of parody has been successfully done in recent years in “Wicked,” a Broadway play. It is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (from the Wizard of Oz), telling her own story.  Also, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as Told by the Wolf” is a best-selling children’s story! Because these stories are loved and familiar, the new perspective lends itself well to humor.

After rewriting some well-known stories, you will have a better feel for how the plot unfolds. The longer the story is, the more complicated it can be. If you are writing a short story, you’ll want to limit the problems your hero has to one or two. Difficulties from without (a bad circumstance or impending danger) can be overcome at the same time as your hero faces inner flaws (such as insecurity or a bad temper) and rises above them! Struggle with them. Rejoice with them. The more you let the reader see their hero overcome character flaws that they wrestle with, the more your story will resonate. These are some of the “universal truths” I mentioned previously.

In Summary:

– Outline your story.
– Introduce the problem within the first page.
-Resolve the problem bit by bit, with some drawbacks along the way, to increase tension and keep the reader turning pages.
– Make the moment of salvation from their problem definitive and satisfying.
– End the story shortly after the pinnacle of victory by resolving all unanswered questions.


As you prepare to write it helps to read stories that delight you, and take note of how they develop their plot. What is the problem at the beginning? How did the writer “hook” your attention? How did they bring all the problems to a climax and save the main character? How are the loose ends tied up?

Be assured that while there are guidelines for writing an effective story, these are not hard and fast rules. Creative writing is called that for a reason. Just keep your audience in mind and be sure to bring them out of confusion to understanding by the end of the story. They will be coming back for more!

My top 10 Picks for Webucational Youtube Subscriptions! (Middle-Schoolers)

In this digital age, webucational programming is readily available, providing engaging and accessible resources to the homeschooling family, at little or no cost!

My granddaughter is turning 10, and beginning 5th grade. Some of the educational channels we enjoyed are far too childish in their approach now. One thing that was most difficult to find was a quality Bible teaching that didn’t talk down or mix fantasy characters into Bible stories.  I’ve also been looking for something a bit more theological, and found one that is a great launching point for serious Bible study!

The Bible Project is a channel  I highly recommend this for ages 10 and up.  It would be supplemented with reading the Bible (as would any good theology source).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=KOUV7mWDI34&list=PLzqvZvU_c95EXuOia1644oaxMzQof7UYN 

For deeper thinkers and harder questions: The One-Minute Apologist is a great platform for important conversations.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMj3sKKn6a4

After finishing the amazing series, “Brain Games,” I found this gem on Youtube. Smarter Every Day will definitely make an impression.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6107grRI4m0o2-emgoDnAA 
This science and illusion site makes you think outside the box. It inspires wonder. 🙂 Brusspup:  https://www.youtube.com/user/brusspup

Vi Hart calls herself a “Math Musician.” She uses math to make music and also creates doodle art while discussing math concepts. Very engaging!  https://www.youtube.com/user/Vihart 

What You Ought To Know has been a favorite for years! Great for middle schoolers and older.
 https://www.youtube.com/user/WhatYouOughtToKnow/playlists?sort=dd&view=1&shelf_id=2

The Story of US, put out by The History Channel, is riveting stuff!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oV8np9i-6F8&list=PL3H6z037pboHLqNBBXjHTqaxpW6yhOINU

A favorite among homeschooling families:  TEDEd has a lot to offer. Some discussions may not fit your worldview, so look it over first.   https://www.youtube.com/user/TEDEducation/videos

Crash Course is very useful, though at times calls for a worldview discussion afterward. This is suitable for ages 10 and up.
https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse 

They also have a course for elementary, that some middle schoolers will still appreciate: Crash Course Kids.  https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcoursekids

What are some of your favorites?

My Top Picks of Free or Cheap Web-Sources for Elementary-Middle Schoolers.

We try to buy the best resources for the least money we can. But even the best curriculum may not give clear enough instruction for the student (or parent) to be able to master the material. I’m a visual learner, myself. Often I need an illustration of the problem worked out in front of me with a clear explanation of the instructor is doing what they are doing! It is also helpful to let someone else take on the time-consuming drill. Here’s a short-list of my favorite go-to online resources that are free or very inexpensive!

1http://www.mathantics.com  The videos are also available on Youtube, but the website has exercises and additional worksheets for a small fee. All videos on the site are free. The worksheets are well worth the small investment, though!

2. Kahn Academy has free instruction, and not only in math! They also have an introductory course in computer programming in JavaScript as well as other subjects. We use this as a supplement often, but it can also be the curriculum!   https://www.khanacademy.org/ 

3. For Spelling and Vocabulary (grades K-8th)  http://gradespelling.com/spelling-vocabulary-word-lists/  
This has lists, definitions,  games, review and tests and costs nothing!

4.  Free literature, biographies, and books about nature and history available at www.mainlesson.com.  Search the bar on the left by author, title, or genre to find the selection of free materials. You may also choose to purchase “Gateway to the Classics” which opens more options, but some of those may also be viewed for free. Here is an example of one we are using this year, on American History:  http://www.gatewaytotheclassics.com/samples/display.php?author=evans&book=america&story=_contents

Here is another sample of a book available on “Gateway to the Classics” which may be accessed as a sample.    http://www.gatewaytotheclassics.com/samples/display.php?author=burgess&book=bird&story=_contents

5.  Printable worksheets for free!!! Pick your grade and your subject. Instruction is also available.  https://www.education.com/worksheets/

Worksheets specifically for music – http://www.abcteach.com/directory/theme-units-music-8843-2-2

Printables for handwriting:  http://www.abcteach.com/directory/subjects-handwriting-20-2-1 

Handwriting Bible verses:  http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/free-handwriting-bible-verses

For reading comprehension and more!  http://www.k12reader.com/subject/reading-skills/  

6.  Grammar for 5th grade and above – review and practice.  This is pretty comprehensive!   https://www.englishgrammar101.com/ 

Another resource for Grammar, organized by topic! Click on a highlighted number for the lesson with answers.   http://www.dailygrammar.com/glossary.html

7.  Writing style and structure, available here!  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/ 

8. Geography:   http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/USA_Geography/USA_Caps_L_1024.html  This link is to learn States and Capitals of the USA, but in the heading, you can pick any country or topic related to geography.
Also, http://geology.com/world/world-map.shtml  will give you clear maps of any part of the world.

9. Latin Charts:  http://classicalsubjects.com/resources/basiclatincharts_color.pdf  

Vocabulary from Henley 1      https://www.memrise.com/course/198250/henle-first-year-latin/    (Just click on the lessons, you don’t need to “join.”  Save the bookmark!
Also, Vocabulary from Henley 2:
https://www.memrise.com/course/519657/henle-second-year-latin/

10.  Bible – audio.  Choose the version you have, and listen while you read along. This will help your children absorb more of what they read because they won’t be stumbling over words. You can also open the text in another window if you want to read online.  https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/ 

11. Science:
I have recently found this interactive series of lessons in science. It is perfect for teaching several grade levels at once. The kids love it!!!   https://mysteryscience.com

12. History:
This resource includes more than history, but their library of collected videos (free) is a great addition to any textbook!  https://brookdalehouse.com/ 

Next time, I will post my Top Ten Picks for Educational Youtube Channels!

What are your favorite educational sites? Post in the comments below!

 

Mastering Simple Math Through Games, Part 1

Very young children may recognize and name digits on paper without understanding the concept of number. Or, they may be able to count aloud but have not associated the spoken number with a written one. You may find a child counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… while looking at three items. This is to be expected as really understanding a number is a process.

A preschool child will associate a quantity with its corresponding numeral. A first grader will begin learning “fact families” to add the numbers or items of things, together. One way to solidify this skill and help a child to internalize the number, understanding it fully, is to play a guessing game with items in a fact family. I put together an easy game when my own children were small, called “Math Beans.” (It works well with M&M’s too.)

Let’s say you want to teach a combination of facts for the number 7. Take 7 beans (or M&M’s or another item of interest to your child that you can easily hide in your hand). Ask them first, to count the beans.

Once counted, put the beans behind your back and take some of them out of one hand, putting them in the other hand. Bring out both hands and show them what is in one, leaving the other hand closed. Ask them to figure out how many “beans” are in the closed hand. This is a fun game, and after playing with the 7 beans, using several combinations – they should begin to answer more quickly or know immediately. Once they have mastered all the facts of 7, show them what these facts look like on paper.

7 + 0 = 7
6 + 1 = 7
5 + 2 = 7
4 + 3 = 7
3 + 4 = 7
2 + 5 = 7
1 + 6 = 7
and 0 + 7 = 7.

This would also be a good time to explain the Commutative Law for Addition (though you don’t need to name it yet). It doesn’t matter what order you add the numbers.
2 + 5 will give you the same number of beans as 5 + 2.

By playing interactive math games with your children, they will not only master the material but enjoy doing it. Learning that is enjoyed is remembered.