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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
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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.
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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.
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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)
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
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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
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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.

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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

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