Life lately

Nov. 3rd, 2012 12:42 am
juthwara: (Chu)
* As I said yesterday, we came through the hurricane just fine. It got very windy, but didn't rain too terribly much. We never lost power, and while we saw a number of large branches and trees down the next day, most of our immediate vicinity was up and functioning. I think the suburbs were affected much more simply because they have more trees; I had not thought of that being an advantage of our blighted urban landscape, but silver linings and all that. All in all, we were very, very lucky, especially compared to New Jersey and NYC.

Really, we live in a very favorable weather area. We get about a foot of snowfall annually, it gets hotter than I would like in the summer, but still almost always below 100 and not terribly humid, we're not in a flood plain, we're not prone to tornadoes and we're tectonically stable. We do get hurricanes, but we have New Jersey absorbing the brunt of most of what comes our way.

* James is six months old. Stop it, relentless march of time! He has taken the longest of any of my children to produce teeth, but to make up for it, I can feel at least six right under his gums. Two on the bottom are very nearly through. Even though he's old enough and seems interested, I've been reluctant to start him on solids since breastfeeding is so easy right now. But if enough of those teeth pop through, I think I will swiftly reconsider my position on solids.

* Thanks to a generous grant from the Mom Foundation, Katherine is now spending two days a week at a local center for homeschoolers. It's called Talking Stick, and every bit as hippy-dippy as you might guess from a name like that. There are organized activities, but much of the day consists of putting children in a big room with lots of educational materials and letting them have at it. I'm not the sort of person who can take that approach in my homeschooling, but it definitely suits Katherine very well, since she can happily occupy herself most of the day with self-designed projects. I'm the sort of wet blanket who insists she learn to read though, so this is an excellent compromise. She can go make a mess for someone else to clean up, spend time with other kids and have people to help facilitate her ideas. When I picked her up last Thursday, she had completed a poster advertising for auditions for the play she had written. She had already played a dolphin in another play that day. Then the other three days a week, I'll do the organized academic stuff with her, which will be easier for not having to butt heads with her two days a week.
juthwara: (Default)
I've been using some of my lovely, lovely free time to do some planning for school next year. I came to the conclusion a while ago that while we like Five in a Row, it takes a huge amount of prep work that I just don't have time or energy for this year. I'm not planning on giving it up, but we'll row less often and focus more on canned curriculum that doesn't require much more than opening the book and doing the day's assignment. I feel like second grade needs a bit more structure as well, which will be easier to do with more of a focus on daily assignments.

So, the plan so far:

Language arts: Daily reading, Reading Eggs, Writing With Ease volume 1, something for spelling (All About Spelling and Spelling Power have both been recommended to me)
Math: MEP 2A and 2B, plus some computer games to help cement basic math facts
History: Story of the World volume 1. I intend to start the year with some prehistory, along with a unit on dinosaurs for science, then move into SOTW. K has a lot of questions lately that would be addressed by covering the Big Bang and the concept of evolution, we'll start there and progress up to humans before getting into recorded history. I also intend to do some heavy supplementing and maybe take some time out periodically for American History, since SOTW volume 1 is all ancient history.
Science: This is the area I don't have plans to use a specific curriculum for. I think we'll spend another year following K's interests. If they tend heavily in one particular scientific discipline, I might look into a curriculum, but otherwise I think it's better to take a broad approach.
Geography/Social Studies: This will partially be covered along with history. We will probably include this mostly with any Five in a Row books we do.
Art/Music: This is the exciting part - there's a homeschooling enrichment center opening right near us! So based on the sampling of classes they had this summer, we'll be able to get Katherine into some good art classes (and possibly something music based, but so far she steadfastly refuses to take a music class). She's also starting ballet this fall.

I've been thinking a lot about what to do with Alec as well. He's doing preschool two days a week, but that leaves three where he needs to be occupied. I don't think three-year-olds should be pressured into academics, but he's really interested in letters and numbers, so it would be nice to find some "school" things to occupy him while I'm teaching Katherine, and also some stuff to do with him while she's on the computer. There are computer games at the library that can occupy him quite a while that he can do himself, so I'm looking for more computer games that preschoolers can do independently. Puzzles can keep him occupied for quite a while, so periodically getting some new ones should help. Beyond that, reading together and books that help him practice the alphabet and counting should make him happy while Katherine is working independently.

I can't quite believe the end of the summer is so close. We need to come to some decisions about our long-term schooling plans, but for now, we have the makings of a fun year.
juthwara: (Default)
I've been mentally composing blog posts for the past two weeks, but never quite getting to it because of the many things in my life conspiring to prevent me from typing. In no particular order:

* Alec has been out of preschool for the past two weeks. We had known about last week, because his preschool year ended a week before his summer program starts. However, he wasn't able to go to his last week of preschool, for absolutely infuriating reasons. For the past couple months, he's had molluscum, an utterly harmless virus that causes painless bumps on your skin. There's no real treatment for it, except for unpleasant sounding things like freezing or scraping the spots, or medications that may or may not work after a few weeks. So unless there's a problem, you just wait it out. It's really common, and as I said, he's had it for a couple months. Unfortunately for us, it's on his face, and the preschool called us concerned about a couple of the spots the next-to-last week of preschool. We humored them and took him to the doctor (K had it in preschool as well, so we recognized it right away), who wrote us a note saying that it was harmless and there was no reason he couldn't attend school. But the preschool director saw that it was contagious and refused to let him attend, even after talking to our doctor on the phone. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that he almost certainly caught the virus at preschool, but as far as I know, there was no effort made to inspect any of his classmates to see if they needed to be sent home because they had this terrible virus. Just Alec, because he was unlucky enough to get the spots someplace visible.

So we need to find a new preschool for next fall, because aside from being nail-spitting mad, molluscum can last for months and it's entirely possible he'll still have it in September. I'm hoping that the drive to his summer program won't be too bad and we'll be able to send him there in the fall. It would have the advantage of removing the time pressure of getting him potty trained before the fall.

Meanwhile, he's been home for two weeks, and he's developing an advanced case of Three, mostly in the form of finding it funny to defy us. Summer camp starts next week and it can't come soon enough.

* I'm still working on the stupid homeschooling portfolio. It's turned out to be more complicated than I expected, because I stupidly didn't read the stupid guidelines closely enough and discovered that while I had been keeping a stupid book log, it was supposed to be a dated stupid book log. I feel dumb now. And I've been a bit busy fudging reconstructing the stupid book log.

We're meeting with the evaluator on Monday, so I have to have it done by then. I should, in fact, be working on it now.

* I'm beginning to suspect that James has reflux. It took a while, because he hasn't been doing the classic arch away during eating, although he's starting to get fussier during feeds. Instead, he's falling in a pattern of eat for half an hour, fall asleep and sleep for 10 minutes, wake up when the acid makes it too painful and want to eat again to soothe the pain. Repeat on endless loop throughout the day. I can usually get one longer nap in the middle of the day where he can be put down, and he's getting pretty consistent with an 8 hour stretch at night, which is saving my sanity. But other than that, it's me pinned to the couch all day long, feeding him endlessly and I find it difficult to type around him. I know he's getting plenty of milk, because he does an excellent Vesuvius impression (in addition to the copious emissions from the other end). Meanwhile, I'm going slowly crazy sitting trapped in one place while my two older children engage in spirited attempts to kill each other. He's getting fussy enough that I feel justified in calling the doctor on Monday instead of waiting until his next appointment, nearly two weeks away. I might develop bedsores if we wait that long.

* This isn't actually preventing me from typing, but it's weighing on my mind: shortly after getting home from the hospital, I got a call from my mother's main health aide saying she was in the hospital after a period of atrial fibrillation. As it turned out, one of the smaller arteries going to her heart was 80 percent blocked, and she was placed on medication to break it up. But she's been very low energy ever since, and when I discussed it with her aide when they were visiting that one doctor at the hospital said she was showing signs of the early stages of congestive heart failure.

So yeah, that's super fun. I've known for a long time that people in wheelchairs often live shorter lives. If nothing else, Mom has a perpetual UTI because she has a catheter. It's sent her to the emergency room a couple times, and I'm sure at some point she'll get sick with something else and it will rear up while she's weakened and make everything far more complicated. But being prepared for the possibility of my mother starting to develop life-threatening problems doesn't make it suck any less when it happens.

* Oh yes, did I mention I have a cold? That's super convenient right now.

So to sum up: I'm busy and stressed. But I'll try to find more time to type after the stupid portfolio is in.
juthwara: (Default)
How you can tell James is a third child:

He's lying in my lap, blissfully asleep with a full diaper. And because he's a third child, I have no intention of waking him up to change it unless he starts developing diaper rashes or decides to protest. Until then, if it isn't bothering him, it isn't bothering me. As an experienced parent, my first priority is always on "blissfully asleep."

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[livejournal.com profile] longstrider's parents left last Thursday (leaving behind a rearranged basement, some very nice plants in the backyard and our eternal gratitude), which means shit is about to get real around here. [livejournal.com profile] longstrider will be home from work for the next two weeks, which will cushion me from the cold hard reality of life with three children for a little while longer.

Life being outnumbered by our children is going reasonably well. We're getting a good bedtime routine down, and except for a stomach bug throwing it into chaos last week, the older children are actually going down pretty easily. The nighttime itself is much dicier - James will often go for at least one extended 5-6 period a night, but it might not always be at a useful time. Sunday, for instance, it was from 4:30 to 10:30. Not exactly helpful, baby.

Yesterday was devoted to figuring out how to get Alec out of the house for the summer. His current preschool has a summer program, but it's full time only, and that feels like a big jump from the two days a week we've been doing. So we checked out the preschool at our church today, which will let us do only a couple days of week on an individual weekly basis and have the advantage of being quite a bit cheaper. I think it will be worth it, even though it will be more driving. It will be good for all of us for him to have time out of the house with well-rested people who have planned activities for him, and it will save my sanity to have one less kid in the house.

***

As for the oldest kid, we're keeping her somewhat occupied with a minimal schedule of reading and math, and that's more than plenty for the moment. Last week, I had to ask [livejournal.com profile] longstrider to take over math instruction for the day because I couldn't figure out how to do it. In my defense, our math curriculum is designed to teach problem solving and algebraic thinking, so it wasn't just straight addition and subtraction. But still. Five terms of upper-level college math and a BA in computer science and I was so tired I had to look at the answer manual to figure out a first grade math sheet. Sigh.

I do have a few more things beyond reading and math planned to do soon to round out our portfolio. Do me a favor and bug me to get the portfolio done this week, since I really need to make myself do it while [livejournal.com profile] longstrider is home and I still have some time and energy. Bleah.
***

On a completely different note, we managed to see Avengers last weekend. I think it might possibly have been the best action movie I've ever seen (and the least problematic, which I admit is pretty low bar, but I was pretty happy with how little cringing I had to do). The interactions, both positive and negative, between the team members was fantastic - of course, who would expect any less that great dialogue and character development from Joss Whedon?
juthwara: (Default)
We've been covering Owl Moon by Jane Yolen in a lackadaisical way over the past week. Owl Moon is the story of a girl who goes out with her father on a winter night in hopes of seeing an owl. So naturally we've been learning about owls and the moon.

You can buy an owl pellet online, but K's grandfather was visiting and brought a couple that he had found in the woods. Since these were fresh from the owl and not nicely sterilized like the ones you find online, I was quite grateful that he was there to handle the dissection. The reason pregnant women shouldn't change cat litter is that it can carry toxoplasmosis, a disease adults barely notice but is dangerous to fetuses, and the place cats normally pick up toxoplasmosis is from eating wild rodents. Even after microwaving the pellets to help kill the germs and taking care not to touch them, I'm not sure I would have felt safe being that close to them. Anyway, with the help of some plastic utensils and a multitool, the pellets were dissected and it was deduced that they were the remains of a bird and some sort of small rodent.

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We spent another day reading all about owls. We also did a neat art project I found called Winter Birch Tree, where you put down masking tape to look like tree trunks and the moon, cover the paper in dark blue water color paint, sprinkle some salt on to give the effect of snowflakes, and then peel up the tape so you have a lovely nighttime scene of trees and the moon. If one wanted, one could use the opportunity to point out the use of shadow in the art in Owl Moon while adding shading to the trees. We didn't, or at least as far as I know since this art project happened while I was at work. K's two efforts didn't have much resemblance to those on the web page I found the project on, but they're lovely in their own way and she had fun.

On our last day, we read a bunch of books on the moon and solar system, watched several videos on Discovery Streaming, and then did a project on the phases of the moon. It was a fun and productive day, but not in a way that gives me a lot to talk about.

So that was our week of Owl Moon, which was really more like a week and a half. I've been trying to plan out what we're doing in the next few weeks. At 30 weeks pregnant, my energy is pretty low and getting lower, so I think we won't be covering a lot of books as thoroughly as I would like. I'm also not cleaving terribly closely to Five in a Row at the moment. K keeps giving me requests for topics that it doesn't cover very well, like London, or her ocean obsession or her longstanding request to make a volcano. Added to that is the fact that FIAR is a bit poor when it comes to racial diversity or really much of any diversity outside of the USA and Western Europe. So next week we're doing a book on Hawaii (to be determined based on what I can get from the library), which will address the volcano desire as well as some ocean life. After that, I'm contemplating Robert McCloskey's One Morning in Maine and Time of Wonder jointly, which will give us the excuse to spend more time on the ocean, and even throw in some dentisty, another subject of interest (no, that particular choice doesn't address the lack of racial diversity, but they're good books for the ocean-obsessed child). Beyond that, I'm not sure yet.

Books used this week:

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
See How They Grow: Owl by Mary Ling
Owls by Tony Angell
Owls : the Silent Hunters by Sara Swan Miller
Great Horned Owls by Doug Wechsler
I didn't Know That the Sun is a Star by Kate Petty
The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons
The Moon by Elaine Landau
Moon by Steve Tomacek
The Magic School Bus Get Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole
juthwara: (Default)
So we've been engaging in educational pursuits lately, really. Many of my plans have been stymied by the nasty cold I've had for the past two weeks. K also threw a wrench in my plans for starting with a week on castles and the Middle Ages by developing a grand passion for the ocean and fish.

I'm finding myself often being caught wondering where I draw the line between insisting K do the things I have planned and deciding that the advantage of homeschooling is that we can follow her passions. When it comes to reading and math, I'm good at staying firm, although I might make compromises like letting her spend more time on Reading Eggs or put off a handwriting assignment until tomorrow. But with everything else, my feeling is that in first grade, it's only reading and math that have a particular level that a child should be able to achieve. As for the other subjects, it's important that they learn history, science, art, health, etc. But there is anything in particular in those subjects that you can point to and say, "A first grader should know that." It's not like she should be expected to know American history through the War of 1812 and have a good grasp of geology. So since our approach is that she should be exposed to these subjects but the actual topics we cover are entirely up to us, it's hard to insist that we absolutely must be learning about castles when all she's interested in is dolphins and sea anemones.

So we finished up The Duchess Bakes a Cake and our study of the micro-organisms that help make our food by making bread and yogurt, then moved on to Very Last First Time, the story of an Inuit girl in Canada who goes beneath the sea ice at low tide to gather mussels on her own for the first time.

And here was where I ran into a problem I've worried about since embarking on FIAR: what if K refuses to read the main book? We had a bit of this with Cranberry Thanksgiving, but I was able to get her to listen to it after some persuasion. The thing is, sometimes K will take one look at something and decide she absolutely does not like it and will not be moved on the subject. She's extremely stubborn, and I have learned that fighting it head-on is the worst possible approach if it's not something that's really important (stubborn refusal won't get her out of a trip to the dentist or picking up her toys, for instance). It's better to try and take a different angle or give her time to warm up to it after some persuasion. In this case, for reasons she wouldn't or couldn't explain, K refused to read Very Last First Time. And I was getting sick and was nearly seven months pregnant and just didn't have the patience to work her around to it.

So I decided that there was nothing stopping us from covering the topics I had planned on covering. So we read lots of books on the Arctic and spent quite a bit of time looking up information on the sea animals that live there. We did a lesson in pontillism, which is the style Very Last First Time is illustrated in, but works fine as a standalone topic. K developed a passion for sled dogs, so we looked up information on them and K spent quite a bit of time getting pulled around in a laundry basket by her visiting grandfather.

From there, we moved on to Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, with more success. I'm hoping to finish it up in the next couple days, so it will get an entry of its own.
juthwara: (Default)
In the week after Christmas, we made a stab at schoolwork by rowing A New Coat for Anna. We didn't do it justice, since we only covered the fiber arts aspects of the book, but K's grandmother, who both spins and has dyed wool, was here and that made a great opportunity to do something fun enough to capture K's attention even in the Christmas season while we had a great resource present. Anna has lots of other aspects that are worth covering, so I'm hoping that we can pull it out again either to row on its own or as a supplement to other books with similar themes.

In A New Coat for Anna, a young girl living in post-war Europe (country unspecified, but most likely Germany, The Netherlands or somewhere in Scandinavia from the names) needs a new coat but she and her mother have no money. So her mother gathers up their valuables and proceeds to trade them for the things needed to make a coat - wool from a farmer, spinning it into thread and weaving it into cloth, then finally a tailor to make the cloth into a coat. So K's grandmother came for Christmas bearing several wool fleeces and her spinning wheel. They started with spinning, a process that fascinated both children. They wound up spinning enough yarn for a pair of mittens.

Then came the really exciting part: dyeing. In Anna, Anna and her mother use lingonberries to dye the cloth. I considered going to IKEA and getting either lingonberry juice or lingonberry cordial for the dyeing, but I was a bit worried about the high sugar content and how well it might wash out (in retrospect, it occurred to me that people use things like blueberries which are quite sweet and they seem to come out okay, so it probably would have been fine). Then I saw [livejournal.com profile] rivka had used cranberries for the same project. Coincidentally, my absentmindedness around Thanksgiving had resulted in the purchase of four bags of cranberries, so we were well set in that respect. We simmered the cranberries the evening before and left them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, we strained out the cranberries and added some vinegar, then put it back on the stove and added a skein of yarn.
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After a while, it was a nice dark pink and we took it out and rinsed it a couple times to get out the excess dye.
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For variety, we also experimented with easter egg dye. K decided she wanted purple, but there was only one tablet, which didn't seem like enough, so I experimented with combining the blue and red/pink shades until I came up with a comparable purple color and mixed them together. We added the yarn and heated it in the microwave. Less than ten minutes later, we had a lovely purple yarn.

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In the end, we wound up with one pink skein and one purple, which will be made into a lovely pair of striped mittens.

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After taking a week off to go to Michigan, we started out this week talking a bit more about textile production. We read a bit on making cloth from cotton (from the every-useful What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry), then pulled out the good old potholder loom for a lesson in weaving. K turned out not to be terribly interested, and after she played around with it enough to demonstrate that she understood how to weave, I decided she could probably happily live life without having made a highly synthetic potholder that will melt if used on something too hot and ended the lesson. I think I am going to try to teach her to knit soon - she was very excited about the idea of making a blanket for the baby, and while I think that will probably be too much for her attention span, she could certainly do a nice doll blanket, or maybe I could convince her to make a hat for the baby instead.
juthwara: (Default)
The Duchess Bakes a Cake is the story of a medieval duchess who gets bored one day and decides to make a cake. She adds some yeast, and then adds some more yeast, and then more for good measure. The results are about what you would expect for a children's storybook, which is to say it completely ignores the fact that all the yeast in the world can only make a finite amount of dough stretch so far and the resulting cake carried the duchess far above the castle.

With a story like that, you obviously would have to spend time talking about baking and the role of leaveners. We started with yeast. I showed K a couple Good Eats episodes featuring yeast, because if there's a better way explain how yeast works than with belching sock puppets, I haven't seen it. After that, we moved onto the hands-on portion of the lesson. First, we tried setting out two mixtures of warm water and yeast, one with sugar and one without. Within fifteen minutes, it was clear that sugar is necessary to fuel the yeast, since the mixture with sugar was bubbling merrily away and the plain water mixture was sitting there tepidly. I had K look at the yeast foam and see the bubbles in it.

To further cement the idea that yeast gives off gas (and because it was really cool), we took a two-liter soda bottle, put warm water, yeast and sugar in it and then stretched a balloon over the top. Within half an hour, the balloon had popped up and was clearly inflated on top of the bottle. We could see the yeast foaming away at the bottom as well. We went out for several hours after that and when we came home, the balloon had gotten quite a bit larger and the yeast was clearly still working away, which really impressed me. Even though I've baked more than enough bread to know that yeast keeps working for hours and even days, it's still hard to carry that over to realize that the yeast really is a living organism that keeps eating and producing as long as it has food, even when it's not hidden in bread.

The final experiment of the day was to talk about other leaveners, specifically baking soda. Since baking soda is much more commonly used in making cakes in modern times, I wanted to show K how it worked. I suppose it wasn't so much an experiment as a demonstration: I put baking soda in the bottom of a glass and poured vinegar over it, and as everyone who ever made a baking sode volcano knows, it bubbled up quite impressively. To learn a bit more about making cakes and baking soda, we read The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake and watched an episode of the Magic School Bus tv show that covered pretty much the same story.

Then, of course, we had to bake a cake. At that point, we were done with science for the day since there was no recapturing K's interest when there was a cake to be decorated.

This week, I decided that right before Christmas is not the time to try to get a six-year-old to concentrate on school, so we're putting off the rest of Duchess until after we get back from Michigan. There's more than enough of the Middle Ages to fill a full week, and it will give me a chance to get some books that I had wanted but didn't have time to get through interlibrary loan. We will be doing A New Coat for Anna next week because K's grandmother will be visiting with her spinning wheel, and that's far too good an opportunity to give hands-on experience with fiber production from fleece to yarn to pass up. I don't think we'll have any trouble getting K to pay attention to the process of dyeing wool or spinning it, even with new Christmas presents to distract her.

Books used today:
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl
The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake by Joanna Cole
juthwara: (Default)
On our last day of Mirette, we studied the geography of Paris. I didn't have a lot of luck finding age-appropriate non-fiction books, but found several nice picture books that gave a good overview of the geography of Paris. We started with Everybody Bonjours, which I nearly didn't check out at first because the text is so basic, but then I flipped to the back and found the detailed guide of all of the Paris landmarks pictured in the book. Highly useful. From there, we read a few more books and looked for the landmarks we had already learned about. We did a brief detour to learn a bit about gargoyles, then watched a few videos on Paris aimed at tourists. Since Mirette takes place in the 1890s, we've been reading a Magic Treehouse book that takes place during the World's Fair of 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was built.

Then we moved to the hands-on portion of the lesson. First, I had K cut out a paper model of Paris that I found on the Web, which was great fun to play with. Then we made a wooden model of the Eiffel Tower from one of the many kits available at Michaels. We've done a number of those kits and they're surprisingly good for $5 or less. They're marketed as 3d puzzles, but with some glue (and I highly recommend using glue if you want it stay together), they become very nice little models, or in a couple cases, lovely little dollhouses with functional furniture. It became clear quite early on that K inherited my interest and ability in working with her hands. I did a lot of the model (there were parts that just would not have fit together and stayed without adult strength), but she was very good at spotting how the pieces should fit together. Altogether, it was a very pleasing project.



Our next book is going to be The Duchess Bakes a Cake, largely because it came in the mail the other day and once I said the word "cake," K was set on it. I wouldn't have necessarily chosen right now for it because we have plans for two other books to take advantage of grandparents being around for Christmas who can help with certain topics. The medieval theme of Duchess lends itself to a more extended study that we won't have time for if we want to cover the other books while grandparents are here. Life is also pretty distracting right now, which is why I haven't been pushing heavy academic work right now. But we can always find another book to cover the Middle Ages if we want to come back to it later.

Books used today:

Everybody bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman
Babar Loses His Hat by Laurent de Brunhoff
Come fly with me by Satomi Ichikawa
Night of the new magicians by Mary Pope Osborne
juthwara: (Default)
We did what was essentially two different activities over the course of three days, so I'm just going to talk about them in terms of activities as opposed to what we did when.

Mirette on the High Wire is the story of a girl in Paris who learns how to walk on the high wire after a retired high wire artist, Bellini, comes to live at her mother's boarding house. Through teaching Mirette, Bellini manages to work past the fear that had forced him to retire and they end up on tour together. I chose this book because I had sold K on the idea of studying Paris, but not on Madeline, and this also takes place in Paris. But you can't study Mirette without covering the circus, which has added huge amounts of excitement to our week.

After reading Mirette, the first book on the circus we pulled out was Peter Spier's Circus. Peter Spier has long been a family favorite for the fascinating level of detail he puts in his illustrations, and Circus is no exception. We spent a long time looking and pointing out interesting things. Then two non-fiction books on the circus, and The Greatest Elephant in the World, which on cursory inspection was about a circus elephant, but actually reading it revealed it had almost no information on the circus and was pretty depressing to boot. We ended with Olivia Saves the Circus, a Mr. Rogers dvd on the circus and a Reading Rainbow episode with a section on high wire artists.

I found out last weekend that Philadelphia actually has a circus school, but I was sad to discover when I checked their website that it was a couple weeks too late to see any performances this year. I will definitely be keeping my eye out next spring for anything I can take K to, since the circus is by far best experienced in person.

Our second activity was exploring the physics of balance. We read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of a man who disguised himself as a construction worker to snuck up to the top of the Twin Towers and string a rope between them so he could walk it (I was a little worried about the awkward questions that might come up since the book does end by saying the towers are no longer standing, but thankfully, K was too incensed by the injustice of Philippe being arrested to really register that part). We looked at the pictures in that and Mirette, and looked at the poles they used for balance. I pulled out a marker and first asked K to try to balance it on her finger standing up, which she couldn't do, and then with it lying down, which she eventually got. I took the cap off the marker and had her look at where it balanced versus where it balanced with the cap on. I think she got a pretty good understanding of balance without having to use terms like "center of mass."

Then we went to a local playground where there are some balance beams so K could try some balancing herself. She needed a bit of help to walk the beam initially, but she was fairly successful with the pole from our Swiffer. I asked her to try to lean as far over as she could and still stay balanced, and we saw how her hips leaned out in the other direction to compensate. Then her brother made his lack of nap known and we had to go home before she could spend as much time as she wanted perfecting her high wire act.

Tomorrow, Paris!

Books used:

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily McCully
Peter Spier's Circus! by Peter Spier
The World's Greatest Elephant by Ralph Helfer
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein
Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer
Big-Top Circus by Neil Johnson
The Circus Comes Home by Lois Duncan
juthwara: (Default)
I think we are going to try to do Cranberry Thanksgiving again next year, the week before Thanksgiving, because nobody was focusing well last week.

Today, I tried to finish up a little with some talking about Thanksgiving foods and nutrition, largely because it gave me a sheet I can include in our portfolio that shows we engaged in nutrition/health and wellness education. So first, I showed K a sheet I made up with pictures of typical Thanksgiving foods - turkey, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans and pumpkin pie. I asked her what these foods might have in common and why they might get eaten at an American Thanksgiving, as opposed to harvest festivals in other countries. K didn't know, so we started looking up the foods in Wikipedia, and over and over, native to the Americas kept coming up. K still felt tha the thing these foods had in common is that they grew on farms, but I managed to get across that we eat those foods for our Thanksgiving because they're all native foods.

Then I had her cut out the pictures and we placed them on a printout of a plate with the food groups from myplate.gov by what food group they belonged to. And lo, we had one sheet to stick in the portfolio. I really don't feel first grade should be about output, but it's always in the back of my mind that I need to purposefully create some for the sake of the portfolio.

Tomorrow, Mirette on the High Wire. I had initially planned on Madeline, but while K liked the idea of learning about Paris and loved the idea of building a model of the Eiffel Tower, she didn't want to do Madeline. I looked at the FIAR list and strongly considered The Giraffe that Walked to Paris - K loves giraffes. But ultimately I decided that it wasn't a good idea to do that book when we wouldn't be able to go to the zoo, and also couldn't quite stomach the idea of talking about the Eiffel Tower while doing a book that takes place 50 years before it was built.

So that left Mirette on the High Wire. It's actually quite a good choice for getting K engaged, because the circus is always a fun topic. And I admit, I didn't plan this at all, but we went to IKEA last weekend and K begged us to buy her this set of circus finger puppets and now she's really excited by the circus. Really, I wish I had thought of it, but no, it was just dumb luck. This should be a lot of fun.

Other things accomplished today: read to the end of Progressive Phonics beginner book 1, did an MEP 1a worksheet.
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Today, we got back to reading and math, which is a frustrating proposition in some ways, because I have no idea where to place her.

If you were to ask K, she can barely read a word. Certainly, if you want her to sound out a word, she won't oblige you. But at the same time, when she was taking the placement test for Reading Eggs, she got the first 20 questions right before getting bored and demanding an end to the test, at which point I decided it was probably better not to have her placed so high that she would be constantly frustrated and had her get the next questions wrong so we could get out of the test. But getting that far (and I suspect she could have gotten farther) required quite a bit of reading. A child who can't read doesn't start out on level 5 of a reading game. She can use our dvr well enough to find the specific episode of a tv show she wants, which you can only do by reading. And this summer, when we were looking for a dvd of "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue," she found it and yelled, "Hey, this says 'Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Escape!'" So sure, sweetheart, we TOTALLY believe you can't read at all.

However, being fairly sure she reads much better than she's letting on doesn't tell me where to place her when it actually comes to curriculum. So I've decided to just start her at the beginning of Progressive Phonics, in the hopes that starting her out easy will help her gain enough confidence to start showing her actual skills. As I've said before, I like Progressive Phonics because it has the parent reading along with the child, which both gives K added confidence to have me carrying the bulk of the reading load and makes for much more interesting reading than "The fat cat sat" school of phonics reader. We made it to the end of the first beginner book tonight without much problem. She really likes to try to guess at words based on the pictures instead of taking the time to read them, but if you make her stop and focus on the actual word, she usually doesn't have a problem figuring it out.

Progressive Phonics has a handwriting component, but K really wanted to use the handwriting book we had been using with the online school, and since it's a perfectly good handwriting book (Zaner Bloser), I was fine letting her continue with it. She was really excited to discover she had moved from writing individual letters to actual words (her response: "Real words! Score!"), so I'm hopeful she'll respond well when we finish this book and move onto Writing With Ease, a writing curriculum that will involve writing quite a few words.

Math presents a slightly different problem. I have a pretty good idea of where K's math skills are, but in switching curricula, I'm not sure where to start in the new one. MEP levels 1a and 1b seem to be the equivalent of the first grade math she's been doing, but not necessarily covering things the same way. From what I can tell, 1a covers addition up to 10, which K can do pretty well, and 1b covers addition from 11 to 20. But looking at the sheets at the end of 1a, I'm afraid she would be a bit lost if we skipped straight to 1b, at least partially because the style of problem is so much different than the straightforward style of addition and subtraction problems she's been doing that she'll get too frustrated. So I've been skimming 1a and picking out some sheets just to get her used to the more game-like style of problem. Also, while we've certainly covered greater than and less than, she's never used the actual < or > signs, so the first sheet I pulled out tonight focused mostly on that.

I feel like we need to get her to the point that she knows the addition and subtraction facts up to 10, without having to figure it out with fingers or counting cubes. She has the theory down just fine, but again, there's a confidence issue holding her back. I'm hoping maybe some time with some math games will help cement some of these basic sums so she can move on to more complicated problems with confidence.

Tomorrow, a last day of activities based on Cranberry Thanksgiving, then we move onto Paris and the circus with Mirette on the High Wire.
juthwara: (Default)
I confess, the extent of our educational activities yesterday consisted of multiple viewings of "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which I couldn't in good conscience write up. But today we managed to read some books on Thanksgiving and discuss it a bit.

We started with a book on the history of harvest festivals which described harvest festivals all over the world. Then we read Molly's Pilgrim, which related Thanksgiving to the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Then we finished up with a couple more fun Thanksgiving books. The attention span available today was rather limited, but I think we got across the idea of Thanksgiving as a harvest festival and time to share our blessings with others.

Books used today:

The autumn equinox : celebrating the harvest by Ellen Jackson
Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli
Sometimes it's turkey, sometimes it's feathers by Lorna & Lecia Balian.
juthwara: (Default)
We're celebrating Thanksgiving this week with Cranberry Thanksgiving, a book I remember fondly from my youth and devilishly hard to get my hands on presently. Buying it was out of the question, because the cheapest copy I could find online was $50, used. I've already complained about how the Philadelphia library allowed the copy I had on hold get checked out by someone else. So I tried one suburban library only to discover it had been checked out in the four hours between when I checked the catalog online and getting to the library. I finally tracked it down at another suburban library.

K's reaction, upon being presented the book, was to declare she didn't want to read it and she was going to hide it under the couch, which she did. After the ordeal I went through (and the fact that I didn't have any alternate plans for the week), that was not going to fly. I told her she had to listen to it at least once, and I figured if we didn't read it again, we at least would have a basis for the rest of the activities for the week.

Sigh. There are many good things about having a child that's very independent and self-directed. And then there are the times I mentally chant to myself "Stubbornness is a trait that will serve her well in life. Really. No matter how much I want to shake her until she just cooperates without argument." At least she'll be resistant to peer pressure, right?

Anyway, after a show of plugging her ears, K did in fact listen to the story and seemed to mostly enjoy it, although she never did warm up to Mr. Whiskers, despite the fact that he's the hero of the story. Then we talked a bit about how it takes place in New England, where many of her ancestors lived. I told her a bit about her great-grandmother, who grew up in Maine. Then we watched a Reading Rainbow with a segment on harvesting cranberries. We finished with a short video on Thanksgiving.

I feel conflicted about how to teach about Thanksgiving, since I'm not fond of the idea of promoting our national myth of happy Pilgrim and Native Americans, conveniently glossing over how within 20 years, said Pilgrims would be mercilessly killing the same Native Americans. I think K should know about the Puritans, since they're her ancestors (we're direct descendants of Roger Conant, the first colonial governor of Salem). But she's a little young for a reading of Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, which I feel does a good job of both appreciating the good points of the Puritans while showing them warts and all. So I'm mostly ignoring all that and concentrating on Thanksgiving as a harvest festival, which is how I choose to celebrate it. Tomorrow, we're reading a bunch of Thanksgiving books that talk a lot about giving thanks and sharing our blessings and very little about Pilgrims. I'm also planning to show her "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which is Pilgrim heavy, but at least the Thanskgiving video we watched today gave a pretty accurate history, including the fact that Europeans had enslaved the Wampanoag.

Books used today:

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin
juthwara: (Default)
Today was not a great day for school. We all had a lot of trouble getting started this morning, and while cuddling together in a big pile in bed is lovely, it doesn't get schoolwork done. K was also not in a very cooperative mood because I had enacted a new policy the night before in an effort to get a response to my attempts to get her to clean up her toys besides whining and delay tactics. Perhaps I should have given her more warning last night, but sometimes scorched Earth tactics are the most effective and I was fed up. So she was rather preoccupied by the Rapunzel doll residing in my closet and not inclined to pay attention to school (but she did do a bang-up job cleaning up the living room tonight!). Then we spent the afternoon on time-consuming errands, including, ironically enough, driving out to a suburban library to track down a copy of the book we're doing next week, Cranberry Thanksgiving.*

But I did manage to get some geography in, thanks to Google Maps (the FIAR manual keeps suggesting things like looking up maps in your Worldbook Encyclopedia - how quaint). We found Boston first, and looked at how far it is from Philadelphia (and then we looked at Michigan, and Illinois, and Hawaii - I never said we were particularly on task today). Part of Make Way is drawn from a duck's eye view flying over the city, so it looks something like a map. I zoomed in on the map of Boston and we were able to identify where on the Charles the mallards built there nest, and then trace the route they took to walk back to the Public Gardens. We used as much of Google Streetview and the satellite view as we could to see the Gardens themselves. We could see some swanboats, but I had to go look up the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings that are in the Public Gardens, since K really wanted to see them. I'm quite certain we won't be able to get out of a trip to the Public Gardens on our next trip to Boston, which is just fine with me.

If I can manage it, I'm going to try to read two more McCloskey books, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine with K this weekend and discuss how he uses the same artistic style for all of them. But even if we don't, I think we've made a decent showing of our first week of rowing, given how recently I started preparing. We're going to do Cranberry Thanksgiving next week, but continue to go easy on other subjects, then try to start up with reading and math as well as FIAR the week after Thanksgiving, which will hopefully get us past both the school fatigue and the holiday distraction (for the moment, given how soon Christmas distraction will start up).




*I would like to extend a gigantic raspberry to the Free Library of Philadelphia on this issue. Last Monday, there were three copies listed as available in the system - two were checked out and one was available, but at a branch on the other side of the city. So I put it on hold so it could get transferred to my branch. For three days I kept checking its status and it just kept saying it was still on shelf. Then yesterday I checked again and it had been CHECKED OUT. What exactly is the point of putting a book on hold if no one can be bothered to take it off the shelf and HOLD it for you? I truly have more sense than to be trying to track down a popular Thanksgiving book a week before Thanksgiving, but it was because my own library failed me, apparently through being too lazy to actually retrieve books people have requested.
juthwara: (Default)
Today was pretty simple, because we belong to a homeschooling group that meets at the park during the summer and at a local gym during the winter for socialization/running around like maniacs time every Thursday afternoon. K gets more than enough exercise on these afternoons for me to consider it a free-form phys ed.

We started the day reading Ducks Don't Get Wet, and then we followed the instructions at the end of the book to prove how ducks stay dry. Actual ducks stay dry because they have an oil gland they use to spread oil over their feathers (this is why you see ducks rubbing their bills over their bodies so much; it's called preening). For our experiment, we spread vegetable oil over a feather:
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and then sprayed it and a dry feather with water:

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(K insisted on the goggles. It really is just harmless water in the spray bottle). And the water beaded up and rolled off the oily feather while soaking in the dry feather. Pretty nifty.

Tomorrow: some language arts and hopefully geography.

Books used today:

Ducks Don't Get Wet by Augusta Goldin
juthwara: (Default)
N.B.: I'm not planning on making this an all-homeschooling, all-the-time blog. But I need to keep track of what we do every day for portfolio purposes and I can't do both this and NaBloPoMo at the same time, so I'm sorry if the homeschooling stuff bores you, but we're over halfway through November and there's a holiday next week, so there won't be too much more of this. At the end of November, I'll be creating a separate homeschooling blog that anyone who's interested can follow.

As I suspected, today wasn't greeted with quite the same enthusiasm as yesterday. My child, she loves her some science. We started the day reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then I asked K if she thought the story took place in the present day or some time in the past. I was firmly informed that this was a make-believe story and therefore my question was absurd. Okay then. After trying to point out that even make-believe stories are usually meant to take place at a certain point in time, I took a different tack and asked her to look at the cars, and then pulled up a picture of Doc Hudson from the movie Cars, who was a '50s era Hudson Hornet. Did he look anything like the cars in the book? A bit, but not an exact match. After promising to look up pictures of Lightning McQueen when we were done with schoolwork, I pulled up a Wikipedia article on the history of cars, which is well-stocked with pictures of cars from every decade. I scrolled to the end to pictures of present-day cars and scrolled backwards until we hit the cars of the '30s and '40s, which looked very much like the cars in the book. Having established the book takes place in the '40s (it was in fact published in 1941), we looked at some other clues that it was from a different time - everyone was wearing hats, all of the women and girls were wearing skirts or dresses, Office Mike uses a telephone from a police telephone booth to call his precinct.

Then I pulled out the only book I could find for children on life in the 40s on short notice: Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America, an American Girl supplemental book. Once I pointed out to K that her grandmother was six in 1944 (i.e. exactly her age!), she showed quite a bit of interest in it. I told her about how her grandmother had lived on the coast in Connecticut and therefore had to participate in blackout drills, which impressed K quite a bit. She asked if she was afraid during them because it was dark and I told her that yes, sometimes her mother wouldn't want to wake her up during them, so she would sometimes wake up in a pitch black house where everyone else was in the basement (I think the fact that nearly 70 years later, she still vividly remembers this says a lot about the trauma of them). That made a big impression too, since K is scared of the dark. Topics like clothes girls wore and victory gardens went fairly well. She was incensed to discover that they didn't have televisions but had to make do with radios, but perked up when we got to a page on going to the movies, which I told her many people did every week, and she also discovered that movies she's seen, like Snow White and Bambi were from that time period. Fortunately, although concentration camps and the nuclear bombings of Japan were covered, the pages didn't have any graphic pictures, so I was able to skip them without comment. K did show a lot of interest in a page on Sadako, the Japanese girl with leukemia who tried to fold 1000 paper cranes (they had a picture of hundreds of origami cranes, which caught her eye because she's very interested in origami), but I was able to just say that Sadako was a girl who was very sick after the war without getting into why. I also discovered that during pregnancy is not a good time to try and relay stories like that calmly.

Tomorrow, we are enthusiastically looking forward to our feather experiment. It might have been smarter to do it today, since today's topic might have been better received if it hadn't been in the way of something she was eagerly anticipating. But I didn't feel up to dealing with feathers, oil and a curious toddler, so it's waiting until Alec is at preschool tomorrow.

Books used today:
Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America by Catherine Gourley
Progressive Phonics: Beginner book 1
juthwara: (Default)
We started our first day of Five in a Row out with a bang, with a reading of one of K's favorite books, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (although she said she didn't want to learn about Boston, she clarified the next day that she still wanted to do Make Way for Ducklings and she does love Boston, she just doesn't want to learn about it). Since most of the book is taking up with the process of a pair of mallard ducks finding a site for a nest, laying eggs and raising the hatchlings, it seemed natural to move into a study of ducks.

We started out reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin, who writes a series of hysterically funny books about a farm with a very mischievous duck, just for fun. Then we moved back to more real life birds with The Egg, a book about, well, eggs and how chicks develop in them. While it was mostly about chickens, the basics of how eggs work is the same. We took a break in reading to go shine a flashlight through an egg in a dark room to show how eggs are porous. I also asked K when we got to the section on reptiles whether she thought cold-blooded animals would be able to sit on their eggs to keep them warm and she correctly deduced that no, since they don't emit heat, they couldn't keep their eggs warm (thank you Dino Dan, I guess, which is largely where K learned about warm and cold blooded animals). After that, we read A Duckling is Born, which was specifically about the mating process and fetal development of ducks. Then we read Ducks!, which was a more general book about the different breeds and types of duck. We finished with K rendering a pretty accurate drawing of a female duck on her nest.

Thursday, we're going to revisit ducks by doing an experiment to find out why ducks don't get wet. But K was so excited she got up and made her own project. She had been cradling the egg since our light demonstration, so she ran outside and got some twigs, grass and leaves to make it a nest:

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She even found an obliging duck to sit on it:

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I realize that male mallards don't sit on the nest, but we didn't have any female ducks available.

I don't think I can express how different today was than pretty much any day of school so far this year. The only times that have come close have been after a few science lessons. I realize not everything is going to generate this level of excitement, and I'm a little afraid it's downhill from here, but one of the big reasons we pulled her out of school in the first place is that I was afraid she was going to lose her love of learning in a sea of test preparation. Today, we able to get that back, an enthusiasm for new knowledge so strong that she had to jump up and make up her own project. I can't think of any better reason for homeschooling than that.

PB150534

Tomorrow, some geography and history (I may be sneaking some information about Boston in there if I can get away with it). I'm not sure we'll achieve the same level of excitement, but it should still be fun.

Books used today (bear with me, I need to keep track of these things):
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
The Egg by Pascale de Bourgoing
A Duckling is Born by Hans-Heinrich Isenbart
Ducks! by Gail Gibbons

Ack!

Nov. 15th, 2011 12:03 am
juthwara: (Default)
Nearly missed posting for the day. I didn't have all of the books I wanted, so we're starting FIAR tomorrow instead of today, but we did at least take a first pass at Progressive Phonics, which K thought was hilarious. So that's an improvement at least. But now I have all of the books I need thanks to my special library delivery service, so tomorrow is all about ducks!
juthwara: (Default)
Tonight, we got K to bed a bit later than we should have, which we could tell because she had reached the emotionally fragile state of tiredness. We were discussing her passionate desire to make a papier mache volcano, and [livejournal.com profile] longstrider and I both agreed pretty readily that it seemed like a fine thing to do. I reminded her that one of the great things about homeschooling on our own (besides no more Fast Forward! I'm a bit giddy at the thought) is that we can decide ourselves what we want to learn, so if there's something she really wants to learn, we can do it.

"Okay," she said, "But I don't want to learn..."

She trailed off, either unwilling to say it or too tired to come up with the words.

"But I don't want to learn about..."

I braced myself, prepared to explain sympathetically that she was still going to have to do reading and math.

"Boston!"

Well okay, sweetheart. I guess we won't start with Make Way for Ducklings after all.

****

I actually think we'll broach the topic again, to see if she was just tired, or attempting to express reservations about the entire FIAR concept (which I expect to dissipate pretty quickly once we start doing it, but I can understand how a completely new way of learning could make her nervous). Because if there's one thing K loves, it's Boston, where her aunt lives.

We filed the paperwork and withdrew her from school today, so we're official. We still have to hear from the school district that everything is in order, and get instructions on how to return all of the online school's stuff (you mean we have to give the computer back? Drat). I have declared the rest of this week a deschooling week, where we all recover a bit from worksheet fatigue (and give the teachers time to prepare) before starting fresh next week.

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