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Distracted by Toddlers, Ideas for a State Unit Study

By Heather Idoni

Added Friday, April 06, 2007

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 8 No 27 April 6, 2007
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2007 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!

If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!
And please visit our sponsors! They make it possible. :-)




Guest Article
-- Creating a State Unit
Helpful Tips
-- Candlelight Tip #2!
Winning Website
-- Outline Maps
Reader Question
-- Distracting Toddlers
Additional Notes
-- Searchable Archive
-- Our Email Group
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Guest Article

[The following article happens to be directed to those living in the
United States, but there are great ideas here that can be adapted for
any province, country or other region. Get creative! :-) -- Heather]


Creating a State History Unit
-- By Karen Lange

Some schools include a semester course of state history and government
as part of the high school curriculum. If this is something that
interests you, here are some ideas to facilitate your own study.
Included are related project and resource suggestions for history and
other subject areas. These ideas can be easily adapted for elementary
grades, or for studies of other countries, and can be used for
individual or group study.

Project ideas:

History/Social Studies – Research state and local events of interest,
make a state timeline, research the development of industry and
population or your state’s role in the Revolutionary or Civil War and
other events. What Native Americans lived in the state in its early
history? Find out what inventions by state residents contributed to the
growth and development of the United States. Research family life
during a specific period and find out what someone your age would do
with their time - what their hobbies were, styles of dress, type of food
and shelter they would have, etc. Have a history fair with other
homeschool students to share your research, include period dress and
cooking where possible. Consider the following: What are the origins of
your state’s founders? Is this culture reflected in the population
today? Do you think that the vision that the founders had is still
intact? Would they be pleased with the progress the state has made
since that time? Why or why not?

Geography/map skills – Research and create your own maps with features
of your choosing: topographical, climate, population, industry, agri-
culture, historical sites, your local county, routes to places of
interest, compare and contrast maps from a previous century with those
of today, etc. Study the natural resources available around the state.

Language Arts – Write to famous people, sports figures, or legislators
from your state. Imagine you are interviewing a figure from your state’s
past, what would they say? Write it up as an interesting article or
story. Keep a journal of interesting sites, events and people around
the state. Create a mock advertisement or radio ad for your state
tourism department. Interview interesting people from your area or
write about current state/local events. Submit it in article form to a
local paper - you never know - they may print it! Create a current
events scrapbook or write a short story for children about a local
historical event. Using ideas in this unit, write a report, or choose a
type of essay: cause and effect, compare and contrast, persuasive, or

Science – Visit your state museum of science, an observatory, botanical
gardens, or science center. Check out local or state park nature
centers – most have programs for students of all ages. Volunteer for
work at a park, zoo, or nature center. Attend an astronomy group’s
stargazing events; join a bird watching group or photography club, hike
nature trails, or go on a fishing trip or whale watching tour. Research
the effects of building and industry on the environment and wildlife.
Are there any endangered species in your area? Find out how they
became endangered and what efforts are being made to preserve them.
Research the impact regional weather and climate has on residents,
animals, and the environment.

Math – What are the dominant businesses and industries in the state?
Find out the percentage of jobs and revenue they bring in. Follow local
and state business stocks and create an imaginary investment portfolio.
Visit your municipalities’ tax office to find out how local tax money is
spent. In what field are you interested in pursuing a career? What are
the current wages for those types of jobs in your area? Create a
budget, factoring in local living expenses, etc. based on those wages.

Government – Research your state government, the law making and justice
procedures. Interview a local government official, legislator or law
enforcement officer. Visit the capitol or county seat, find out what
local courts are open to the public and attend a session, or attend
public meetings with controversial topics. Get involved with a
homeschool mock trial team (contact your state or local support group to
find one in your area). Research and conduct a mock town council
meeting with other students debating topics such as wetlands development
or other pertinent issues.

Art/Music/Culture – Research your state’s cultural heritage. Check out
activities for the arts available around the state. Visit an art museum
or gallery – many often feature local artists. Attend a concert, a
play, or a battle re-enactment or encampment. Get involved with a
historical group. Create a travel brochure or poster. Photo document
your state research activities and create a collage, scrapbook, or
journal. Check out the state bird, flag, flower, motto, seal, and song –
and create your own if you don’t like the existing ones! Most state and
local colleges offer interesting events and exhibits featuring local
artists, musicians, theater groups and speakers.

Volunteer Work/Humanities – Volunteer for local charities: food bank,
Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchen, etc. Find out how they raise funds
to support their efforts. Organize a group of homeschoolers to conduct
a food or clothing drive, or other fundraiser for charity. What issues
unique to your area do residents face? For example – is the area
dependent on seasonal tourism, casino industry jobs, farm or factory
work? How does this effect the residents as consumers and taxpayers?


Search the Internet; visit the local library or bookstore for texts,
videos, and maps (libraries often have separate sections reserved for
state books and resources). Visit your County Chamber of Commerce or
Visitor’s Center, check out state and local historical sites, groups and
societies - they have maps and pamphlets with guides and/or historians
available for programs, field trips and general info.

Alpha Omega Publications - www.AOP.com - has state history software
available for all 50 states.

Other curriculum suppliers carry books, videos, and resources with
state information.


Karen Lange homeschooled her three children K-12. She is a freelance
writer, homeschool consultant, and creator of the Homeschool Online
Writing Co-op for teens. Visit her website at:


Do you have comments to share? Please do!

Send your emails to: heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip

Another Great "Light a Candle" Idea!

"When our three children did their school work together in one room,
I sometimes had trouble with them getting distracted and ending up
talking to one another when they needed to be working. So I pur-
chased a large candle which we lit each morning. Whenever someone
got distracted and began talking when they shouldn't be, the candle
would be blown out until they were concentrating again. Once the
candle was burned down completely, we would do something special
together as a family. Sometimes it would be renting a movie and
having a movie night, sometimes it was another special outing, but
it was usually something decided upon in advance. This taught the
children two things: (1) to be diligent about their work, (2) to
work together toward a goal. And it helped me by taking the nagging
away from me." -- Dawn


Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Winning Website

National Geographic’s Outline Maps

WOW! These are great! There are several places on the internet to get
free maps to print; this is one of my favorites! They give the user the
option of printing maps in either gif or pdf format. Be sure you explore
the rest of the 'xpeditions' – there's a lot of great stuff on there!

-- Cindy, www.HomeschoolingFromTheHeart.com

Last Issue's Reader Question

"Hi, my name is Heidi and I am a homeschooling mother of 3. My question
is this: What do you do with younger siblings who are not ready for
structured learning, and are distracting to their big sister? I guess
I think it's hard for my 7 year old to learn with her 18 month old
brother climbing on her and such. We are a disciplined family in most
ways, but how can you explain to a baby that his sister is in school
right now? We've switched most of her lessons to nap time, but then it
seems I'm competing with dinner and such at that time of day. Then we
have a 4 year old who is ready to start at least some structured
activities this fall. I'm just not sure how to balance it all. Any
suggestions?" -- Heidi in Chicago

Our Readers' Responses

"I was in the same predicament at one time. What worked for me was
having a very special box filled with toys that my baby was only allowed
to play with while his big sister was doing school work. My 4 year old
son had a very special box of his own 'school work' to do at that time
as well. The special boxes distracted the boys long enough for me to
get some real school work done with my daughter. I did a lot of hands-on
math, allowing the boys to play with the manipulatives, while their
sister was doing her problems.

I also did a lot of dramatic reading out loud to all of them in which
I would frequently stop to ask them what a word/phrase meant or what
might be going to happen next to a certain character. Believe it or
not, they begged me to continue reading aloud up until they were in
high school and college.

It can be done; just be patient with them and yourself and enjoy the
moments. God bless your home school." -- Rhonda


"We used unit studies with lots of hands-on activities that included
our babies in our learning - or at least didn't make her seem like just
a distraction. I wanted the people in our family to be more important
than the activities, so we tailored what we did to include everyone.
Our only formal lessons during that season were learning to read (which
we stopped after they could read) and math. Everything else was covered
in units, and mostly in ways that had us doing things or just talking
over breakfast or lunch or watching a video. I found I could communicate
as much information to them this way as I ever could reading or doing
workbooks, and so there was less to interrupt. It really helped to keep
family first, and put 'lessons' second. And in case that makes you feel
uneasy, at 14 and 12, my oldest ones have not suffered academically at
all, and both read at college level and score very well on standardized
tests. They also have a great relationship with their younger sisters,
which was our goal for our family." -- Julie G.


"I recommend that you read the answers to last week's question. Are you
trying to formalize your children's education so that it looks like what
most of us were brought up with? When you keep records of what your kids
did for 'school', include all their activities, including the times they
play and help you. Then put 'educationalese' to it. You'll find that
your kids are learning all the time and that you don't need to spend so
much time on sit-down lessons. For example, you could consider that you
are leading a course in child development. Help your older two notice
the ways their little brother is learning language, physical and social
skills. Have them help him learn (informally). Maybe your oldest could
keep a scrapbook of her little brother's life, including photos and
drawings of him (and the whole family, since family is a big part of
who we are), things he says and does, new skills he's learning, records
of his height and weight, ways you can see that he's growing up, etc.
(get some ideas from your daughter.) With this activity alone you've
'taught' language arts, writing, math, social studies, art, fine motor
skills, history (in the making), and any number of other subjects. Just
being with her brother becomes part of school. Also, remember that
being a loving big sister or brother is an important role that prepares
them for being cooperative members of society as well as for being
parents (two critical roles daycare and school fail to prepare kids
for). Mostly, as several people mentioned last issue, relax and enjoy.
God bless you." -- Eliza


"One of the best sites I found out there was www.learningpage.com. It
is all free and offers things for the preschooler to do that could be
just like big sister. Have a basket of things the younger kids can
have only during school time: special puzzles, toys, plastic ABC blocks,
etc. Also remember to have big sister do some of the teaching to the
littler ones, really 'play' school, only she has to teach what she is
learning! Make it a game!!" -- Terri Sue in TX


"I have a 3 year old who still is sometimes a distraction to his older
brother when we are 'doing school'. I have found that the toddler -
18 months to about 2 1/2 - seems to be the roughest spot. Some of the
things I tried with my son that worked were:

1) Spend time with him before school starts. I read about that in a
parenting book - it's called time-in. The theory is that when you
spend time singing, reading, or playing with the child one-on-one first,
he is happier and will be more content to play on his own later.

2) Include him in 'doing school'. I would put my son in his highchair,
or sometimes he would sit at the kitchen table too and do puzzles,
color, or play with playdough. I had a different activity every day
of the week and he only got to do those things while his brother was
doing school. There are quite a few great Discovery Toys that are good
for this age child to use as their 'school toys'.

3) T.V. - yes, I know that probably sounds bad, but he got a lot out
of PBS shows like Barney or Sesame Street where he was being entertained
and I got about 30 to 45 minutes to work with my older son. (He also
adored watching Rachel Ray's 30 minute meals -- I don't know why but
even before he was two he was totally interested in seeing her cook!)

4) Take lots of breaks. Ifound things went better when we broke the
school day into 3 or 4 shortsessions instead of a few hours all at once.
When he figured out thatit would only be 20 - 30 minutes until he could
play with his brother,he did much better about not interrrupting.

Hope these suggestions help. Good luck -- things will get better as
your toddler gets older!" -- Michelle (in Chicago too)


"When my fifth child was a toddler, he was the only one not involved
in school and therefore seeking attention by getting into all kinds of
trouble, as you can imagine. I found it helpful to have some special
things for him to do during school time only, but the most helpful
thing was to schedule into the other kids' timetable a half hour to
play with him, spreading those a little apart. Also starting the day
with something involving him made him feel included. Scheduling the
half hour gave the other kids a break to look forward to and helped
him feel special and involved. It really solved my problem and he was
much more content even during the times when no one was with him."
-- Christine in Ontario, Canada


"I also had a similar problem so I started to babysit my neighbor's
daughter who was the same age for a few hours a day. The 2 two year
olds kept each other company and left me to do the homeschooling with
very little actual sitting to do. Just a idea!" -- Julie


"We have children who are 6, 4, 2 and 10 months, so I can definitely
relate. Here are a few ideas I have gathered:

- Mommy Time
Play with the younger sibling(s) individually for 15 minutes before
starting lessons with the older ones. Let the child choose the
activity (perhaps from a list you suggest) and give them your
undivided attention. Most children will be much more willing to play
independently after their special time with mommy.

- Activity boxes
A mom I know has 4 special boxes that come out only during school time.
Each box has different items, and she brings out one box per week.
Inside the box are things that toddlers/preschoolers can do indepen-
dently, or with minimal supervision. Her young children love to 'do
school' while their older sibs are working. Examples of items are
lacing cards, stickers, paint with water books, junk mail to open, small
toys, pipe cleaners, magazines (to look at, rip, make collages, etc),
coloring pages, stacking toys, various sized containers to stack, nest,
put things in, books, etc. Look around your house, garage sales, the
dollar store, and similar places to find items for your boxes. Another
related idea is to rotate toys for the younger sibs to play with.
Mondays may be block day, Tuesday trains, Wednesday Duplos, Thursday
puzzles, Friday dolls or cars. Everyday toys become more intriguing
when they aren't constantly available.

- Involve them
Another mom I know makes 'school' packets for younger sibs. If the
older children are studying oceans in science, the younger children
have coloring pages of whales, fish, and related items. They can color
while the older kids do worksheets or other seat work. For children
that are closer in age, like a 4 year old and 7 year old, do some school
subjects together. Read a book together, then while the older one does
an independent assignment, work on letters with the younger one. Or,
while the older child practices spelling words, have the younger one
try to identify (or match or say the sound of) the first letter of each
spelling word. Bible, History, Science, Music, Geography, are other
subjects that can often be taught together at multiple levels. If you
use textbooks, make them work for you. If the 3rd grade and kindergarten
books both have units on forests at some point during the year, don't
teach it twice at different times. Rearrange the units to teach them
in the order that makes the most sense for your family. Then any extra
art projects, field trips, videos, additional books do double duty for
both children.

- Quiet Time
Even older babies and toddlers can learn to play by themselves in a
safe place (i.e. crib or playpen) while you work with an older child.
Try to have a consistent starting time, and gradually increase their
time alone from 5 minutes up to 30 or 40 minutes. This can provide
you with valuable teaching time for older child(ren), as well as
teaching your younger ones a valuable skill."


"I know your frustration. I only have 2 children, but when my oldest
daughter started schoool I couldn't quite figure out what to do with my
youngest. I soon found that letting her play in her room for a while
helped, but that only lasted so long. Later, I started looking for
workbooks that were geared more for my youngest daughter - books that
had matching games for shapes, colors and numbers. They were pretty
cheap (I even found some at our local dollar store) and she loved them
because she felt like she was getting to do "school" with her big
sister. I think the main idea is to let them be involved without being
a distraction." -- Heather in NC


"One thing that helps me is to divide issues into two categories:

1) Things that, if lost, can be regained, and
2) Things that, if lost, cannot be regained.

If the first grader doesn't learn short vowel sounds today, we can work
on them tomorrow, but if I teach my older children that they can only do
lessons when their younger siblings are not there, that is an impression
that's hard to change. If my child doesn't learn to read by 8 years old,
she can learn when she is nine - or ten. But if I'm stressed out while
the children are growing up, those years I won't have over again.

I have 7 children ages 11 years to 11 months. I'm officially schooling
5th grade and 3rd grade, and doing kindergarten with the 6 year old.
Our house is full of activity and noise. We don't often get anything
done without having some kind of interruption, as I'm sure you can

Don't let yourself think of the baby as being in the way of home-
schooling. (One homeschooling mum wrote an article called 'The Baby IS
the Lesson'.) The reason for your family's existence is not to get your
7 year old through a year of school. It's great training for your 7
year old to incorporate her sister into her life - good preparation for
being a parent herself. :-)

As for academics, it's amazing how much children learn, just by doing a
little bit each day, and having mum's ear for most of the day for
questions and comments." -- Nerissa

Answer our NEW Question

"My son (14) has been homeschooled for a number of years and the one
lingering issue we still have trouble with is that his friends are in
public school on their time schedule which conflicts with ours. During
weeks like spring break or on teacher work days and every afternoon
there are groups of kids just hanging out within earshot and my son is
longingly distracted. I'm glad he has friends but I resent having to
compete with them for my son's time and be the 'bad guy' because the
other parents don't have anything for these kids to do. Of course he
gets several hours of free time every afternoon to play but since I
work during the day our review time is afternoons and weekends. We
intentionally take travel breaks during off-time to avoid the crowds
when the other kids are in school. Taking a spring break too, for
example, is just too much down time and gets us off track. Since he's
in Boy Scouts he already has once-a-month weekend camping trips and
activities we work around. But the neighborhood kids' schedule makes
it more difficult. I absolutely hate the idea of having to plan around
the various school hours and days. Is any one else dealing with this
issue?" -- Pam


Do you have some ideas for Pam's situation?

Please send your answer to: HN-answers@familyclassroom.net


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Send it to HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
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Tags: state history government, state unit study studies, outline maps, homeschool geography curriculum, map skills, language arts, homeschooling curriculum, designing a unity study, toddler activities, homeschooling with toddlers, home education tips

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