20 Best Tips
Teaching Textbooks

Fall Read-Alouds for Middle School Boys

This fall our read-alouds are focused more on the boys and their interests (or things they will hopefully be interested in). While our girls were avid readers, our boys have more of a “meh” attitude when it comes to reading, so one of my goals in reading out loud with them daily is making it FUN and enjoyable. 

We have four books in our pile for our fall reading: 

We are currently reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt – and it is HILARIOUS. If you have middle schoolers (boys or girls), they will love this book told from the perspective of a 7th grade boy. And beyond that, you as the reader will love it too (I’ve laughed out loud and even teared up at a few points). 

The boys may have had to remind me IT’S NOT REAL, MOM! (For real.)

Anyway, here are a few thoughts on our choices for the fall read alouds. 

Read Aloud Tips

Maybe your family is having a hard time settling down for a read aloud time? If so, maybe one of these Six Read-Aloud Tips will help your family out {especially little ones}.

Books We’ve Previously Read Together

Here are a few other books that we’ve read together and blogged about. Click over to see our thoughts on them!

Audiobooks for Families to enjoy

 

Learning about Coding with EEME’s Uno Board

EEME is a blog sponsor and we received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it. All opinions expressed are my personal, honest opinions. You can read my full disclosure policy for more details. 

Just before the school year ended, we shared about Kaleb building Q the robot from EEME. We were then in the throes of packing for our European adventure and the day before we left, another box arrived from EEME for the Uno Board. 

One thing that can be frustrating about other STEM projects is you build it and that’s the end – nothing more. With Q the Robot though, EEME has created a series of projects that build on the framework of what your child has already started. The base remains the same and children essentially add more brains and smarts to their robots. 

That is a win-win!

The Uno Board is not a stand-alone project – meaning you cannot purchase just the Uno Board and have your child work on it. Children start by building the Q the Robot project kit, a 3-wheeled robot who follows light. He is the first in a series of robotics projects from EEME – and there is no coding required to get started! Once completed, Q follows light around using two sensors, or photo resistors. When light is shined directly onto the sensors, Q turns to follow the light. 

The kids “beef up” their robots with (and I quote, because I could never in a million years say this) “an Arduino-compatible UNO microcontroller board”. With the Uno Board, concepts covered include:  

  • Coding programs for the UNO board
  • What a compiler does
  • A coding language called C++
  • What all those holes, pins on the UNO board do
  • How UNO powers up

Adding the Uno Board

EEME has FREE online lessons (anyone can view these!), and this is where we went to begin our work with the Uno Board. The first several lessons covered the components we needed for the project (all included), safety, familiarizing ourselves with the projects, and getting the board connected to Q the robot for programming. 

We divided the thirty video lessons for Uno Board into two segments over the course of two days. Each of the 30 videos range in length, but average time each day was a bit over an hour, taking us a almost 2.5 hours to complete the entire project. 

There are some super tiny screws and pieces that will require a bit of patience at times – completely doable, but just a heads up. :) 

One thing we had to do in the early stages was download some firmware to “test” and make sure our board was working correctly. This step took us a little bit of problem solving (all questions that were answered via their site), but because we had a Mac, we required a different patch for our test. Once we had that figured out, we were good to go! 

(The green light is a good thing.)

One thing to love about the video lessons is the way EEME dad ties in practical/real-life to help kids understand the terms. The above lesson is teaching about coding and broke it down by showing that coding is essentially giving kids the steps to a function. When parents ask you to work on morning chores (function), there are certain steps that define that function. 

The hardest area for us was more the actual coding. In this section, I will admit that we bypassed a little bit, but only after Kaleb and I talked through the coding. For kids to learn and understand how the coding works, EEME recommends that kids type through the coding – it is provided in a box above and kids copy it line by line. 

I 100% agree that we learn best by doing ourselves, but in this instance, Kaleb and I would go through it and I would have him point out the various functions. Because I had a broken arm at the time (and had limited use of the computer keyboard) and Kaleb struggles with typing, after we discussed the coding, we did copy/paste from the provided coding. For a few of them I would omit certain segments and have him point out where the errors were. That said, the program itself does recommend kids work through it step-by-step. We didn’t follow the directions. :)

Each time new coding is entered, there is an opportunity to test it to see what that specific coding does. Honestly, so fun. 

Above is a super short video clip Kaleb took showing the light sequence coding he worked on. 

Once the coding was completed, Kaleb mounted the platform onto the top of Q the Robot. Prior to this point, the Uno Board was connected but off to the side. 

This step was a little trickier at times because there are so many more wires now and he was trying to make sure everything stayed in place (he may have knocked one out by accident and had to backtrack to see how we had the wires connected). 

After about two hours and 15 minutes total – the Uno Board was fully mounted and working! 

And now – we’re ready to work on the next step with Q the Robot to make him even better! 

What I will say after this step – Kaleb is 11 and a bit of a perfectionist. He wants to have things done well and correctly, so there isn’t any rushing through. If something isn’t working right, he at times gets frustrated with himself, so I sat alongside for the lessons and helped him flip back through pictures we had taken to look and see how wires were connected if he accidentally unhooked something. 

If our older son (age 13) were working on this, he would not need the 1:1 help (he might as for a hand occasionally), but much of that is also personality differences as well. It can be done and may need to be broken up into smaller chunks as well. 

What Mom’s Need to Know…

  • Everything’s included – parts, wires, batteries are included in all every kit
  • No experience needed – the online lessons to mentor, guide, and teach your kid (seriously, this is a lovely thing)
  • Safety first – no soldering required, low voltage projects (the mom in me rejoices)

Meanwhile, kids are learning solid concepts and being challenged by building projects using REAL components. They may make mistakes, but in doing so, they learn to review and discover what they can do to make it better and work correctly. 

Perfect for ages 10+

Time Required: 2-2.5 hours

Parental involvement: varies based on child, but this one may require more assistance depending on your child’s keyboarding/typing skills since it does involve more detailed computer usage. 

Start Learning With EEME

There are 3 ways to learn with EEME – FREE online lessons, their robotics kit series, and their electronics kit series.

  1. For free online lessons – families create a free account with EEME and use their web browser to interactively build and learn about electronics circuits.

2. Robotics series – The first kit of the series, Q the Robot, is a project where your child builds a 3-wheeled light-following autonomous robot. The online lessons associated with Q teach how robotics circuitry works.

You can purchase Q and additional add on kits here.

3. Electronics series – electronics kits are purchased as electronics kit monthly subscriptions. A new bite-sized kit ships every month complete with all the electronic components needed to build a new project.

Each month’s project builds on the previous month’s knowledge and interactive quizzes, questions reinforce kids’ understanding of the why’s and the how’s. 

Learn more about the electronics monthly subscriptions here.

 

 

Be sure to take a look around the EEME site. If you have kids in the 7-10 range, they have a monthly subscription option where each project focuses on a different electronic concept, but otherwise – go for Q!

Past EEME Projects

We’ve worked on several other projects from EEME. If you’re interested in learning more about their monthly subscription program, be sure to check out the below posts for more information:

7th Grade Mid-Year Homeschool Update

The past few days I’ve shared a mid-year update for our 11th grader and also one for our 9th grader – today, our 7th grader, Zachary, is on deck.

In the first bit of this school year, our boy managed to become both a teenager and also pass me in height. Zachary is currently eyeball-to-eyeball with his dad, but OY!

Incidentally, boy wonder has one of two dress codes, even when the weather is freezing: a sweatshirt and pants or NO SHIRT and shorts. Because of his growth spurt lately, I’m rather inclined to let the shorts go all winter and not deal with finding him pants unless absolutely necessary. (true story)

I’ve realized we have very few pictures of him this year. Someone isn’t as happy to see the camera pulled out most days. :) 

7th Grade Homeschool Update

One thing that we started this year – watching CNN10 in the morning with both boys. They have really enjoyed this addition (and it’s only 10 minutes to our day). Our biggest frustration with it is our streaming speed. Inevitably it freezes up as we are watching and it’s easy to get distracted and/or sidetracked because they want to finish it. 

Here’s a peek at what we have been working on this year for 7th grade: 

 

History – One of the main switch ups for us this year was our history program. Granted, it wasn’t huge, but around the end of October Zachary mentioned that he wasn’t particularly enjoying the history we were using (not a set curriculum per se, but it just wasn’t working overall). After one lesson, Zachary started spouting off all this information about the topic that he had learned years prior via Mystery of History

At that point he asked if we could use that program instead. We’ve gone through the set with the kids in years prior and have all the books, so we pulled them out and have been working through books 1 and 2 instead. 

Writing – This is one area that is pushing Zachary into a bit more independence this year. I had his WriteShop 1 text printed and spiral bound which has been GREAT for him – mainly because he can’t lose it. (cough)

Not that my child loses anything. Ever. 

I truly love the WriteShop program and the foundation it lays for future years with our kids. It has been instrumental in helping our girls become the writers they are and is encouraging to see Zachary working hard in this area as well. 

Boy Scouts – Granted, I know it’s not on the list, but Zachary has been rather motivated by Boy Scouts this year and moving up in rank. Kaleb was able to join this fall too. His troop is working through one badge a month (above would be part of his cooking badge). 

It’s been great too seeing him take his brother alongside and help him out with Scouts as well and also more leadership with his troop. He ultimately would like to become an Eagle Scout by the time he is 16. 

Science – This is one area that Zachary has been moving through rather quickly. Typically he is supposed to work through 2 lessons and one lab each week, but he ends up working on more lessons. 

He’ll complete his book before the end of the year for sure, so we are looking at some other options (STEM related) for him to add-on. 

Co-op – We only have one co-op we are a part of this year, and Zachary has been working on a forensics class. It’s one we pieced together using several different texts for our middle schoolers and has focused on different areas such as handwriting samples, fingerprints, and other similar topics the last few months. 

Bible – Zachary has almost finished up the last two books in the Who is God series. This is another area that he has been working ahead in. 

Vocabulary: We actually haven’t started this yet! We will be starting after the first of January on this. 

MathPre-Algebra is actually going great! Truly. :) It may not be his favorite of all subjects, but he is doing well and that’t the important part. 

 

How is YOUR year going so far? 

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Spots are filling quickly in many of these classes, so make plans now to secure your spot on Thursday and receive 20% off.

6th Grade Year in Review – Homeschool Curriculum Choices

Hands-down Zachary’s favorite subject again for the year was science (and much of that was tied into what he worked on with EEME). Another close second for him was his work with Who is God?  and Who Am I? This boy loves any activity that a project can be added to for him to DO instead of observe. 

I hope you’ll indulge me a little as I’m writing these year-end posts. They help my brain process our year and also answer some reader questions when people want to know what our thoughts were on some of our choices. You can see all of our 6th grade curriculum choices in this post here, but below is a more in depth look at what we used for Zachary this past year and how it worked overall. 

The 6th Grade Year Plan…

Here’s a quick look at the overall plan for our 6th grade year…

Science

As I mentioned earlier, science is hands-down one of Zachary’s favorite subject areas. This year he switched over to a two year program using Rainbow Science Year 1. It’s a program we’ve used with both of our girls and had great success with. One of the big parts of this was Zachary working almost completely independently. He had two days of reading followed by a lab or experiment. This was VERY successful for him and he ended up finishing his program almost two months early (no small feat for a boy who struggles to stay on task!). 

In addition to Rainbow Science Year 1, he worked on several projects with EEME. These were HUGELY favored, especially since he began working on more robotics (check out Q the Robot for sure!). Because he is a hands-on kiddo, he also created a lot with Legos, Little Bits, Sphero, and pretty much anything else we had on hand. :) 

Essentially this means that our science for next year is already figured out. We will continue with Rainbow Science and work on EEME projects as they become available! 

 

Reading & Read-Alouds

Reading was one area we struggled a little bit more with this year. At the beginning of the year I set up a list of books for him, and while we did get through all of them, it wasn’t without….incident. His idea of what constitutes a reading list vs. my idea has a wide area of difference. :) 

There were days when we struggled to get him to focus in on an assigned book. He definitely would like more control over the books on the list and we had several talks about his personal reading choices vs. assigned school reading – and why those two are different. After reading most of the books, he would complete a book report  and we would discuss key points of the book using this helpful guide.

That said, his personal reading time grew by leaps and bounds this year. Typically he isn’t a “for pleasure” reader, but there were several series that he either re-read in a very short time or started and loved. 

Math

Teaching Textbooks is definitely another program we plan to use next year with Zachary. It has been a perfect fit for our family. Math may not be his favorite subject, but he does enjoy it much more when we use this program. :) And so do I!

History

This year we switched up our history a bit and followed along with Laurianna in her US History learning so we could go on field trips together. Another bonus was using the same book as friends were using so we could work on a few projects together. 

Each week we spent an afternoon together reading, creating, and learning – which was definitely fun. :) One of the activities we did was making a simple compass

Writing & Grammar

Turns out our writing curriculum this year also had grammar included in it – something I neglected to process until about 2 months into the school year. Zachary still continued on with Growing with Grammar 6 , even though Writers in Residence would have been enough. My theory with this boy is he can use all the extra help he can get (and he didn’t complain, so there’s that too). I’ll be sharing more about this particular curriculum soon and overall loved the layout. 

Spelling

For All About Spelling we typically worked on one lesson a week (a few chunks where we did every other week). We didn’t push hard, but over the last year he has shown remarkable improvement in both spelling and reading but did see huge improvements in the area. For those of you who know me well, you know that it is our favorite homeschool spelling program, hands down!

Bible

One of the other subjects Zachary really enjoyed was Bible using the What We Believe series. I mentioned that we used it a little differently (he isn’t huge into notebooking), but he did enjoy the two books in the series he worked through. 

Art (via co-0p)

One of the classes Zachary had this year focused on different art techniques. One of the kids favorites was learning about fondant icing – because, HELLO FOOD. 

Other Activities  

Swim was (and continues to be) a sport the kids love participating in. Through January they participated in a local swim team and then moved to summer league. We will likely participate again in the fall, but it’s tough with the timeframe (it’s a lot of driving to two different pools for us). 
 
 
Boy Scouts has been another area of HUGE interest for Zachary. He recently completed all he needed to achieve First Class status and wants to hit Eagle Scout by the time he is 16 (his goal). He only joined this past year, but has truly jumped in running! This year he had multiple camping trips, day hikes, and projects to work through – and he loves it. :)
 

Other Year-end Reviews

 
Take a peek at our year end review for 4th grade. I’ll be sharing our 8th and 10th grade soon, so be sure to check back – as well as our plans for the upcoming year!  

Teaching Shakespeare to Your Kids

Reading Shakespeare can seem a bit like a foreign language to both children and parents. Despite having studied (and loved) Shakespeare in college, teaching it has been a bit daunting. I don’t want our kids to just read it, muddle through, and not really appreciate it and all the subtleties each work contains. Granted that’s true of any piece of literature our children read, but works by Shakespeare tend to seem even more overwhelming because of the format and language.

A few weeks ago I picked up a book  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (aff link), dragged it along with me through multiple airports, and FELL IN LOVE. You all, if you have ever doubted your ability to form a way to work on Shakespeare with your kids, you need to check out this book. Yes, you will have to read the actual book itself, but it has a plethora of information inside (I promise, it’s worth it). Technically, there are a few chapters you really want to read first and the remainder you could skim through unless you are studying those plays (definitely read the intro and chapters 1 – 6, 10, 14, 21, 31, and the epilogue), but I would recommend reading the entire book.Personally I would recommend a hard copy of this book (instead of Kindle) because it’s a book you will likely do a lot of flipping around back and forth.

Ludwig believes the younger you start kids learning and memorizing the better. While memorizing seems daunting, he breaks down the process, making it manageable and even something young children can work on. In addition to memorization techniques, Ludwig talks about Shakespeare’s life and history, components of Shakespeare’s plays (imagery, humor, poetry/prose, metaphors), and so much more.

While not an exhaustive look at all of his plays (Shakespeare wrote many!), the insight Ludwig provides into the various works is very helpful and will prompt some great discussion. In addition to delving into the reason for his book, how to use it, and giving a biography of Shakespeare’s life and works, a variety of Shakespeare’s plays are discussed in detail:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Twelfth Nigh
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • Henry IV, Part 1
  • As You Like It
  • Henry V
  • Hamlet
  • The Tempest

This year is the third year that I have taught a high school literature course as a part of a small co-op we belong to, and each year we have discussed one of Shakespeare’s plays and also attended a nearby Shakespeare production (more on that in a bit). Rarely do the play we are studying and the performance line up to be the same, and this year was no exception. We are studying The Tempest and the one performance we could attend was Romeo and Juliet. While I have quite a few notes and guides for each play, I loved the chapters of help on the both plays that Ludwig provides in How to Teach Your Children ShakespeareEach chapter offered some different insights and discussion ideas for our class (and a little something “fresh” for me to ponder as well). 

Understanding the Language of Shakespeare

Even if you understand the plot of one of Shakespeare’s plays, muddling through the language of the day can be hard for kids. There are key words and phrases that are interpreted differently today or than how we think they were written. A few resources I highly recommend are the No Fear Shakespeare guides or the Shakespeare Made Easy series which both offer the original words of a text on one page and then a modern day translation on the facing page so kids can better understand what is happening. While we go over and review various phrases in class with the kids, these have been extremely helpful for kids when reading through on their own.


Go See a Play (or Watch One) with Your Kids

We are also fortunate to have an incredible Shakespeare theatre not too far from us. Each month they offer student matinees and a “talkback time” with the actors after the show is over and we love to take advantage of their acting and knowledge. The theatre we visit is a recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre and the actors and actresses are fabulous.  It’s one thing to read a play, but seeing it come to life in front of you is a completely different thing! The subtle delivery of a line or the mannerisms that go along with a monologue can completely change the meaning and understanding of a scene (body language speaks volumes). 

If you have a theatre nearby, I highly recommend taking time out of your day to attend with your kids (granted, remember that Shakespeare has quite a few innuendoes in his plays that may not be suitable for younger kids, but often pass over their heads as well). Our high school group laughed and followed the bulk of the performance we saw, but at times the dialogue moved so quickly some parts were lost on the kids. Still, it brought a deeper level of respect and understanding of Shakespeare to the kids, and they went home not dreading their upcoming reading as much (and that’s a win in my book!). 

A Few (Fun) Additional Resources


While reading the actual plays are key, above (and below) you’ll find a few other fun resources to go along with your Shakespeare studies.