Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Boy Meet Fish

My daughters and I have been learning about marine animals for the past few weeks in school, so we decided to take a trip to the Denver Aquarium and see the live animals. It was Blake’s first time.

The Denver Aquarium is set up so that you can “follow” the paths of two different rivers. The single, connected path leads you first to the Colorado River, where you are introduced to carp, otters, cat fish, trout, rattle snakes, flash floods, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and many other fish. The second follows a tropical river with tropical fish and a tiger, leading eventually to the “Ocean” where you see sharks, rays, sea horses, star fish, anemones, jelly fish, and more.

Blake was wide eyed from the first tank, and he wanted out of that stroller immediately. (He never got back in.) From one tank to the next, he would run right up to the glass, stop, and stare motionless for minutes at a time, until we pointed to the another tank. He was fascinated. Big fish, little fish, red fish, otters. . . everything caught his eye and held it (including a tree which he ran around and around for a few minutes). Blake, the child who usually runs ahead of everyone, was constantly the last to move on. Only when we stayed too long at the shark tank did he start jumping off of the benches and running in circles.

Oh, the girls enjoyed it too. Sierra remembered the last time we came and was excited to see the tiger again. She got to see it jump into the water right in front of her to get it’s chew toy. At one tank, Bailey saw a neon green eel swimming right behind my head as I was taking pictures. (She thought it was going to get me.) They got to touch a starfish and a sea cucumber, crawl through a “coral cave”, see sea horses, and watch the sharks swim by.

Hardly anyone was at the aquarium that night. We were six of about twenty people (with three of the five kids). We got lots of extra attention because of it. One of the workers, an older gentleman, would often stop and tell us interesting facts about the animals we were looking at as he patrolled the area, back and forth. He seemed to know an awful lot. The girls also got to spend as much time as they wanted touching the starfish and sea cucumber. It was dark though. The aquarium uses a lot of sky lighting, and it was overcast and dark outside. I actually liked it, though it made taking pictures more complicated. It felt more intimate, more real.

When we stepped out to the manta ray pool, the last stop, Blake became fascinated once again. They have the rays swimming around in a shallow pool where you can feed them and “pet” them. Bailey would stretch her hand out, straining to touch one, then pull it back instantly upon contact, afraid it would bite her. Sierra was braver, pulling back only when one started flopping at the edge of the tank right in front of her. But Blake… oh Blake, tried to jump in with the rays and go swimming. My brother barely caught him in time to prevent a spread eagle belly flop. He kept a tight hold on him from then on, though Blake continued to try and swim with the rays. He splashed, touched, grabbed, and did all he could to play with the “fish”. The worker was staring open mouthed at the boy after a while. I guess she’d never seen a kid so exuberant about the manta rays before. Amazingly, we were able to keep him mostly dry.
A toilet stop and a romp through the gift shop later, we were headed home. Definitely a night the kids will remember.

I did it! Sort of.

I did it! I reached my goal of reading an average of a book a week this year! Well . . . that is . . . if you count all of the books that I read more then once.

One of my friends had the great idea of reading a book a week this year, and I thought that I would see if I could do it too. My reading list was nowhere near as ambitious as hers was, but I still had a lot of fun, and read some really good books.

Officially, I only read a total of 48 books, four shy of the required 52. However, if you include all of the books that I read more then once, I read 60. Got that? 60!!!

Here are some of my favorites:

Eat, Drink, and be Healthy
Wuthering Heights
Jane Eyer
The Brothers Karamazov
Pride and Prejudice
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Mara, Daughter of the Nile
Howel's Moving Castle
Twilight (and series)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scribble Art

We've recently taken up art at our homeschool.  It was mostly because I was trying to find something to do during that 15-30 minute lull after Sierra was done with school and before it was time to pick up Bailey from preschool.  Also, I found it too difficult to take all three of my kids, Blake in particular, to out local museum's Discovery Days (weekly art projects for ages 2-6).

At first, we just did a little of this, a little of that.  My mom had given us a bunch of small projects for the kids to do (making bracelets, painting sun catchers, etc.), so we started on those while I searched for a good book of ideas.

A couple years ago, I picked up a book called Mudworks by MaryAnn F. Kohl.  I liked it a lot, but there wasn't much besides sculpting, exploring, and playing with different compounds.  Well, last week, a friend of mine told me she had another art book by MaryAnn Kohl, Scribble Art.  Turns out, it's exactly what I was looking for.

Remember making crayon rubbings?  What about spatter painting?  Finger painting?  Collages?  Scribble Art is based upon the premiss of exploration.  There are no specific outcomes to the projects.  What she does instead is give you a list of materials, the process used, and variations that you can do with the materials/processes.  The final outcome is open ended.  The best part, for me, is that the projects can be easily adapted to a wide range of ages, from preschoolers through adult.  You can make the project as complex or as simple as you want.  I can enjoy the art experience right along with my kids.  Another bonus is that most of the materials used are found lying around the house (crayons, chalk, tape, yarn, glue, tissue paper, string, newspaper, baking supplies, etc.).

It's a great book.  Check it out at your local library (I know Longmont has it).  You can also "look inside" on  here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In the Banryard

We had an official flied trip today.  One of our church friends, Nancy, owns a farm up north of Longmont, and she invited my three year old's preschool class to come meet her horse, Noah.  Sierra, Blake and I decided to tag along.

We were running a little late, so when we got there, they had already started.  Nancy was in the pasture talking to the 3 and 4 year olds, and soon we all headed over to the stable for water and cookies as she told us a bit about horses.  The kids were enthralled, even while her dog, Marbles, was trying to snatch the kids cookies.

Then Nancy brought Noah in.  She introduced him, talked a little more about horses, shooed Marbles away, and then announced that the kids could each have a short ride on the horse.  They each took their turn riding bareback, Nancy leading and one of the mom's walking close to the side.  Some of the kids more unsure then the others, but they all wanted to try.

After that, their preschool teacher handed them each a carrot, and Nancy lead them over to Noah's pen where they fed him.  Sierra was able to tell me confidently  that he was a herbivore and a mammal (homeschooling, check).

Then came the unexpected fun of riding in the bed of her tractor.  All of the kids wanted a ride, even Blake.  He was scared stiff, but demanded a turn anyway.

Soon it was time to leave, and Blake thew a fit.  He didn't want to go.  It was a good trip.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If I had to choose

My toddler has decided that he likes to take his diaper off so that he can do his business in the buff.  I've tried getting him to use the toilet, but nothing is working.  Believe me, I've tried everything, aside of force.  That method backfired with his sisters (who I had a hard time with as well), and I don't want a repeat.

Yesterday, I had enough.  I called my mom up and begged her to come and teach him.  She doesn't know if she can come, but she walked me thorough all of the possible methods she could think of.  Check.  Tried them all.  Sigh.

Then I had to laugh at myself.  Of all the things that I would rather pass off to someone else, it ends up being toilet training.  Homeschooling, no problem.  Natural birth doesn't scare me either.  I don't even have a problem telling my kids about the birds and the bees.  But toilet training!  It is the bane of my existence.  I fear it more then any other development my kids will ever go through.

I find it amusing.  To each their own, I guess.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Typical 1st Grade day

Well, here's what our daily schedule seems to be settling into (when we start on-time, that is):

9-9:30 am The girls clean up the family room while I straighten up the kitchen, and we have a healthy snack.

9:30-10 am Sierra reads a Bob book, Dr. Seuss, or something similar to practice her reading skills, then we do one lesson from Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. (Sometimes Bailey also reads a Bob book to me during this time).

10-10:15 am Sierra does one page from Spelling Workout A and practices her handwriting (either by writing letters to people or doing a page from her Zanner Blosser work book).

10:15-10:45 Sierra does her math lesson from Horizon's Math 1 workbook. If Bailey wants, she gets out her mazes, pre-school work book, and dot-to-dot pages to work on.

(Sometimes all of this takes less then an hour, and sometimes it takes 2 hours. We just start at the beginning and go to the end).

10:45 am-1 pm We do grocery shopping, play groups, outside play time, etc. Lunch.

1-2pm Blake goes down for a nap, and the girls and I go to the living room for either science or history. For science, I am simply reading a library book or two on the chosen topic (currently different animals), and then the girls color a picture about that topic (the animal pictures I am using are from Dover coloring books and National Geographic's on-line coloring pages). While they are coloring, I ask Sierra what she remembers about the subject, prompting where necessary, and write it down.

For History, we read one section from The Story of the World, Ancient Times, do a coloring page or map page, maybe look at some library books on the subject, and write down what Sierra remembers. We also use the activity book that goes along with the text which has questions for Sierra to answer, pictures to color, and the black line maps, as well as some fun projects. When we do the projects (like building a pyramid with sugar cubes) I have Sierra tell me what we used, what we did, and what we learned, and I write it all down.

And that's it. Oh, there's the occasional Signing Times Video, trip to the museum, nature walks, etc. But those are all extras.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Perfect Day?

I don’t think that there is such a thing as a perfect day.

Today started out wonderfully. Blake slept in past 7 for the first time in a while. I got in a good morning bike ride. When I got home, the kids were happily playing with old play dough at the table. I was in a good mood, so I made some new play dough for the kids.

Daddy went to work, and I got in the shower. Blake actually left me alone instead of screaming at the door for once. When I got out, the girls were still playing with their new play dough.

Time for clean up.

The girls got dressed and then cleaned up the living room (which was already rather clean for once) while I got to clean up their mess in the kitchen. Fruit and peanut butter was for snack, and on we went to school. Everything was going well. I put Blake in his high chair with some play sand. Bailey played with Blake, and Sierra started reading her Bob book. What a wonderful morning!

Then the warnings started. Sierra got most of the way through her book while I continued to clean up. Then she added an “n” to the middle of “wet”.

“There’s no “n” dear. Try it again”.

“I can’t!!!!”

“Just sound it out”.


“You added an “n” again. There’s no “n””.

Wailing commenced.

Three minutes later, once she was calmed down and had finally read it correctly, everything was fine again. Sierra went to play with Blake and the sand while Bailey got her chance to read to me. Blake wanted out. No problem. Sierra and I then went on to her reading book. Daddy came up to say hi and grab some food.

“Having a good day?” He just had to curse it, didn’t he?

“Everything’s fine,” I smiled. I was in a good mood.

Daddy went down stairs again, and we continued reading. I read through all her sentences once, then through the first five once more. Sierra started to read. On the third sentence, she came across the word “prune” and tried adding an “s” at the beginning. Here we go again! It took 5 minutes this time. After that, she started whining about the simplest of words, but we got through it, slowly. She gave me enough time to do most of the dishes and mop the floor while I listened, helped and corrected the 14 sentence story.

On to spelling. Blake wanted up and demanded me to read to him. Nope. I let him sit there and look at the books though. I got up and finished the dishes (Sierra doesn’t have much problems with spelling). Blake went off to play.

Handwriting. “I eat cookies with a fork. Yummy, yum-yum.” Sierra enjoyed copying that. She looks up contentedly from her work.

“Where are we going today, Mommy?”

“We were going to go to the store, but I don’t know if we have enough time. We’ll see.”

Math. Reading clocks to the hour? No problem. What number comes next? Done. Word problem? Not a problem. Simple additon with a number line? Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. It’s not that she couldn’t do them (she actually got every single one correct with no help). She just didn’t want to do that many. I ignored the tantrum and told her to get on with her work.

“Bailey, go to the bathroom.” That girl had been a little too quiet. Sure enough, she had soiled her pants.

“Clean it up Bailey, and wipe your bum three times. I’ll wipe the rest.”

“Mom, are we going to the store?” Sierra looks at me over her math paper.

“I don’t think so. It’s already lunch time. Maybe you could go outside and play instead.”

“Aw. I want to go to the store! We can play outside after rest time.”

“I think it might rain later today. You should go outside while you can”. I open the back door and look out. Sigh. It was already starting to sprinkle outside.

When I came back in, I heard Bailey and Blake giggling and laughing. “Bailey, have you cleaned your underwear?” No reply. I walked into the bathroom to find the two of them having a pool party in the toilet. Grrr! Into the shower they went, both of them screaming.

After taking Blake’s diaper out to the garbage, I brought them their towels and dried Blake off. He continued to scream, causing Sierra to go ballistic once again, and Bailey couldn’t stand being left out of the “fun”.

So now, I’m sitting here, unwinding. I’ve used up my entire lunchtime. Science is next. We get to read about humming birds. And in an hour, they’re all going down for rest time and I can curl up on the couch and read a book. What a day! Oddly enough, it’s one of the best days I’ve had in a while. I’m actually grinning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Balancing the Baby

My toddler has now decided that he wants to be involved in schooling too. 

When Sierra or Bailey is reading, he tries grabbing their books and yells at me to read them to him.  (He loves being read to).  When the girls are working on writing and doing their workbooks, he tries to color on their papers. (He's recently discovered coloring).  He's out grown his morning nap, and he won't play outside by himself for very long.  And if he's told to go away, he has a tantrum.  Fun, huh?

Well, here's how we try to cope.  Blake gets read to when the girls do their reading.  He sits in my lap and gets to look at the pictures as they read.  It doesn't always work, but he does feel involved.  When the girls do their written work, he gets to sit in my lap and color on a spare piece of paper.  Sometimes, I'll put him in his high chair with play-dough or food.  For now, it works.

I've heard of some moms sticking their little ones in the tub, blowing bubbles, putting on movies, etc.  Not bad ideas, though they would distract my girls a little too much.  Sigh.  I guess by the time he's able to entertain himself, I'll be teaching him school too.  Ah, such is life.

The Little Things

Some things just make life so much easier.  

I have been completely converted to Crayola's Twistables.  My six year old would go into melt-down when her coloring pencils repeatedly broke and she had to get me to re-sharpen them before continuing to color.  With the Twistable color pencils, that's not a problem.  If the tip breaks (typically because she had too much lead available), she just twists out more.  No more melt downs!  

The Twistable crayons are great too.  When my toddler gets ahold of them, he can't break them, and eating them doesn't do much harm to them either.  Ditto for my three year old (though she no longer eats them).  For me, those few extra dollars are totally worth it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears

We recently started learning about animals for our science study.  We use the Kingfishers First Encyclopedia of Animals as a general resource (as suggested in The Well Trained Mind), but I've found that it really doesn't do much.  There isn't enough information on the animals to feel like you're actually sinking your teeth in, no matter what your age is.

We have discovered that books about the animals written in a story like manner captivate my children best.  Often, these narrations contain enough interesting facts and a wealth of pictures to excite their young minds.  Lists of facts are too dry, but a story is engaging.  You can find a wealth of these books at your library, especially on the common animal topics like bugs, penguins, elephants, etc.

Another great resource that we have found is National Geographic's free coloring pages (find the link on the side bar).  Just print them out, and you've got a beautiful, realistic picture to color.   Other coloring resources that I like are the Dover Coloring Books (found on Amazon for $3.99 each).  Again, they are realistic drawings for you to color.  My favorite ones are the Coral Reef and Wild Animals.  They are less cluttered with background, which is good for the young artist.  Forest Animals is also a nice one with more background habitat.

We're also planning on making a trip to the zoo sometime this year.  (The Denver Zoo has the occasional free day if money is an issue.)  

Science is fun, and kids love animals.  It's going to be a great school year!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Horizon's Math

When my daughter started kindergarden, she was already starting to do math in her head.  I took it as a sign that she was ready and embarked upon the task of finding a good kindergarden math curriculum.  

I hear a lot about Saxon Math, so that's where I started my search.  It looked good to me in their descriptions, so I ordered all of the materials (teacher's book, K calendar, and manipulatives). But when I got everything out to look at the lessons and so forth, I didn't like what I saw.  Everything was scripted (something I'm not to keen on, especially in math and science), and it seemed like it was meant more for Pre-K then Kindergarden ("These are called bear counters.  What colors do you see?  What is your favorite color?  Let's play with them for five minutes and then put them away until the next time where we will do the same thing").  The lessons, in the attempt to cover everything, progressed slowly.  Only about half way through did it give any sort of "real" math. 

While I had been waiting for the Saxon stuff to come, I came across another curriculum, Horizon's Math.  Like Saxon, it used a spiral method of teaching with lots of short reviews. It had no scripting (which appealed to me), all of the manipulatives used were easily found around the house, and the workbook pages were colorful and attractive.  It was also rated highly by other homeschoolers.  So, I decided that I would order that curriculum as well and compare the two, sending back whichever I decided not to use.

When I compared them, Horizons won hands down.  Not only was it less expensive, but it progressed at a good pace and wasn't dumbed down in order to cover "everything".  By the end of the first month we were starting addition, telling time to the hour, and reading calendars.  At the end of the year, we were working on subtraction, skip counting by 2s, 3s, and 4s, and reading clocks to the five minutes.  Things also covered were counting to one-hundred by 1s, 5s and 10s, counting money using pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and dollar bills, measurements in centimeters and inches, and introduction to gallons, cups, liters, quarts, word problems, and a number of other things.  I really, really liked it.

My only gripes were that, I felt, occasionally they would introduce too many things at once and that I found little use for the instructor's manual.

We are now starting the 1st grade set, this time without the teachers manual.  The lay out is a little different, and they have added tests every ten lessons or so (I  haven't decided weather I will use them or not). The curriculum promises the same spiral method and advanced speed.  I'm optimistic.

Other reviews can be found at Homeschool Reviews.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


We have been on "vacation" for a week now, and I have discovered something I find interesting.  With all of my extra free time, I have become less productive.

I haven't done much this week.  The house wasn't cleaned half as much as normal.  I put off going to the store for over three days.  Snacks and lunches have been erratic.  I never did clean out the garage like I planned, and I've barely reached 100 pages in the book I wanted to read.  I've been basically unmotivated.

It seems that, for me, the less I have to do, the less I get done overall.  I end up not even doing those things that are needed, because I have tuns of time in which to do them.  So I guess for me, vacation is vacation, and not time to plan on doing big projects simply because I have "more time".

On the reverse side, I have been better at keeping the house decent, making healthy snacks and lunches, paying attention to my kids, and getting routine things done since I started teaching my daughter at home.  Homeschooling has it's advantages in more areas then I realized.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A typical K day

Her is how our days typically went in Kindergarden.  

9-9:30am: quick clean up of family room (kids) and kitchen (me) and a healthy snack (like apples with peanut butter and pretzels, tuna on crackers with cheese, or vegetables with dressing and toast)

9:30-10am: Sierra reads a Bob Book at/below her level, then we do one lesson in Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading (I don't typically do reviews.  I just remind her of past rules when she comes across them again).  The last five minutes or so Sierra spends doing handwriting or copy work.

10-10:30am: I go over her math paper (from Horizon's Math) for the day with her, helping  where needed, and she finishes the rest by herself. 
We also have rest time every day while the little ones nap, and in the evenings, Daddy reads stories to the kids before bed time.  A couple times a week we have play group.   Some times we have swimming lessons and the like.  And that's it.  Not much to it really.

The Well Trained Mind

When I was first looking at homeschooling my children, I found myself being drawn toward the Classical method.  I like structure.  I like organization.  I want my children to learn more about the classics and history then I did in public school.  And what's wrong with Latin anyway?

So, I was thrilled when I found The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer.  In it, they lay out how to give your children a Classical education.  They give you practically everything you need: curriculum to use,  book lists,  schedules, time frames, vendor addresses, and more.  They even break down their teaching methods into the three parts of the trivium where they devote a chapter to each subject explain how to teach it.  That book gave me the structure and confidence that I needed.  After reading it, I finally felt like I could give my kids the education that I wanted for them.

Anyone who is interested in homeschooling should at least take a look at this book.  It covers more then just the Classical method.  For those who want to pursue the Classical method, it is a must.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The test of time

I have been homeschooling my oldest daughter for a year now,  and I've decided that I will continue.  I figured that kindergarten was a great way to test the water, and if it didn't work, no harm would be done.  Well, kindergarten is now over, and everything went reasonably well.  She learned more then I had hoped in some areas, a little less then hoped in others, and I still have my sanity.   I think that I will call it a success.

Even so, first grade looms before us.  The hours of school will double along with the subjects taught, and my youngest daughter, who is 3 1/2, has decided she wants to do "school" too.  It's a daunting task.  Maybe I should consider this year as an experiment as well.  I'm not half as intimidated as I was at the start of last year, but it's still a big change.  

We're just going to take things a year at a time.