Saturday, June 27, 2009

Penguin Week

It was a long but good week at our house. Dad was in a class every weekday evening for two weeks, so it was long days for Mom. But we are done with that, thankfully. Some of the week's highlights follow.

We took a field trip to a museum in our hometown. They hosted a kids' open house with story time, crafts and a tour.

Some of our favorite activities this week were parquetry blocks from and some Magnetix we bought at a yard sale ($2 for a bin full).

Thing One played with cuisinaire rods for the first time this week. They are a math manipulative to go along with Miquon Math in the fall. The instructions suggest allowing some free play time with them before beginning lessons. Thing One liked making patterns and seeing if I could copy them.

Thing Two enjoyed playing with buttons. I was recently gifted with 13 pounds of buttons by a friend at my quilting guild. The possibilities for these are endless! Sorting by size, shape, color, making jewelry and crafts....Today he just loaded them into his toy trucks and carted them around.

Another favorite was this balancing game (I don't know what it's called, it was a gift):

I also read a nice idea to "Paint with Popsicles." The original idea was to put a bit of powdered tempera paint onto paper, and give the kids popsicles, which will melt and mix with the paint. I pulled out our Aquadoodle pad and we went outside as a lower-mess version. I used colored craft sticks. If I do this again, I will use plain popsicle sticks. The craft sticks turned them nice colors, but Thing Two wanted to eat his as much as draw with it, and I wasn't sure if they were food-safe. And they dyed our hands colors. I used a popsicle mold, but you could use ice cube trays as well.

We made a penguin lapbook. Thing One did about two of the little activities each day. I grabbed these from about ten different websites. His favorite, much to my surprise, were the penguin puppets. He performed a "puppet show" for Thing Two and Daddy while I read a poem, then he made up several scripts for them himself while I cooked dinner. We sang some penguin songs, played some computer games and an interactive tour of Antarctica.

We watched March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. We read tons of books, many non-fiction about penguins. The favorites were a series of books about Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, and Gon: Volume 2 (graphic novel) by Masashi Tanaka. Thing One made some nice drawings of penguins because "coloring pages are boring." Thing Two enjoyed the watercolor/crayon resist art activity I had planned instead.

Another big (surprise) hit were some Landmark flashcards I picked up at Target for $1 in the dollar bin. Thing One knew quite a few (White House, pyramids, Statue of Liberty) and enjoyed learning about some new ones (so did I!).

We played lots of Lego (I'm told the plural is Lego with no "s" by someone whose name starts with John). Even one of our worthless cats got into the act, I mean box.

I even had time to sketch this week! What a pleasure to just sit and draw a while.

We spent lots of time outside enjoying the beautiful sunny yet not-too-hot weather. I threw 20 pennies into the digging hole one afternoon, and the boys enjoyed sifting through the dirt to find them. We planted a few new seeds, watched our mystery plant grow out of our compost pile, and investigated a moth caught in a butterfly net and a beetle found on the patio.

We also encouraged Thing Two in his potty training endeavors. He's doing so awesome!


Thing One picked "fruit" for his theme for next week. Any clever ideas?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Butting Heads

Are you also blessed with a stubborn child? A hard-headed, bull-headed, stalwart child? A perfectionistic child who won't do anything unless he can do it perfectly the first time? An independent child? A fearless child. A natural leader.

I am blessed with two such sons. Today, workbox #3, Field Trip, was replaced with "Fight with Mom for One hour and Ten Minutes over Assigned Chore."

I'm sure the fight wouldn't have lasted so long if I weren't just as bull-headed as he is. I am slowly learning which fights are worth fighting and when it's time to drop the rope, or even not pick it up at all and avoid the tug of war altogether.

You see, over the weekend we had several problems with Thing One not wanting to hang up his clothes in his room. Instead of hanging up two shirts as asked, he hid them under a shelf in the classroom. When I found them, I informed him that he would be helping Mom do all the household laundry this week.

So yesterday he helped me carry them all downstairs, sort them, and load each load into the washer, then the dryer.

Today, I asked him to hang up all his own clothes, and put his underwear and socks away in his drawer. Reasonable, right? He is perfectly capable of doing this job. It is not easy for him, it is a challenge, but well within his capabilities.

Oh, the fits that ensued. Mom, I need your help. I can't do this by myself. It's too hard. It's too much.

It doesn't have to be perfect, I say. It just has to be completed. If you do not finish before this time, we will not be able to go on our field trip, you will not be allowed to come downstairs and visit with the person who is stopping by (for my extrovert son, this is torturous).

For an hour, this continued. Whining, excuses, pleading, begging. I stayed strong but calm. No, I said, I will not do your work for you. To myself I was saying, am I being too harsh on him? Am I just being too stubborn? Am I asking him to do something he's not able to do independently?

Why is this important? I kept asking myself. What do I want him to learn from this experience?I want him to learn to take care of his own things. I want him to appreciate when others do something for him. I want him to learn to be persistent when things are not easy, when he's doing a task he doesn't want to do. I want him to have a sense of accomplishment from finishing a job. By himself.

Then, on the monitor, I heard him say over and over to himself, "It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to get done. It doesn't have to be perfect!"

He's got it! I thought. By george, he's really got it. In five minutes he was done, downstairs having a snack and visiting with our friend.

I envy parents who just know they are doing the right thing all the time. Who have this inner compass, or a set of cultural or religious rules that clearly define how one should approach each and every parenting decision. I struggle constantly with these decisions. Perhaps it's because my experiences with a special needs child in public preschools have made me doubt my parenting skills. I second guess myself constantly, and struggle with consistency. I know we will repeat this scenario in another week or two, with a different chore or school assignment. But by george, today he got it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Love Mondays!

I understand why most folks in the workaday world hate Mondays. I used to have the boring 9 to 5 job that I dreaded returning to on Mondays.

Nowadays, I love Mondays! Our weekends are always full and fun, and usually exhausting. Monday is our slow down day in a way. It's our get-back-into-the-routine day. It's usually my catch-up-on-chores day. I always have a lot of energy on Monday mornings. I always seem to get a ton of stuff done. And I love that feeling of accomplishment when I get a lot of stuff done.

Last night I prepared a few activities for Thing Two (who happens to be two years old). He has seemed content enough to be included in a few of our school activities (if we do a crafty simple workbox I prepare enough supplies for two, and I've been planning at least cooperative play activity per day that all three of us can do together). He likes to play by himself downstairs most of the time. But I felt a bit neglectful and I want to offer him more structured activities. He may refuse them but I feel like I at least need to have some prepared in case he wants to do something. So I made him a mailbox out of empty oatmeal canisters and a shoebox, and a packet of empty junk mail envelopes, play "stamps" (stickers), old postcards, and a small shoebox that he can make into a "package" to send or receive. This turned into our daily cooperative game before 7:30am! Both boys loved it. I remember Thing One loving it at this age.

I also prepared some cut up straw segments and a couple of pipe cleaners to thread them on. He mostly filled up his dumptruck with them and said they were pipes. I bought a bag of multicolored popsicle sticks and he liked building roads for his trains and cars with those. We also laid them out in shapes for a few minutes. I made some animal matching cards, and a new shape puzzle. He wasn't too interested in those today.

Thing One's first workbox is the weekly treasure hunt box. We've been doing a treasure hunt each week. Upon completion of a "puzzle" (usually a worksheet or physical puzzle), he gets one word in a five-word sentence clue. For example, last week's clues were "The opposite of wetter is" and he had to figure out "dryer." His wooden treasure chest was hidden in the clothes dryer with a whole dollar bill inside!

Today he had to complete a new puzzle of a world map. He's been bugging me for one for months and I found one in the Target dollar bin.

Our theme for the week is Penguins. He chooses each week's theme. We did a couple of small lapbook activities from I've printed out a couple of games from for later in the week. We usually do one or two lapbook activities Monday thru Thursday, then put it all together on Friday.

We also did a file folder game of the sign language alphabet. Thing One has become very interested in learning sign language. I think because some of our friends at church know it and use it as a family. He also likes to make up his own secret signs, and often chooses to communicate with me in strange gestures that he assumes I can understand. He likes making up all sorts of things like this. Stories, yoga poses. He's always inventing.

We played a rousing game of Scrabble Junior, on the difficult side of the board today. Thing One was learning how to play his new words onto the existing words.

Then we played the generic version of Jenga (Jumbling Blocks $4.99 at Target). I picked this up because Thing One has been playing a Wii game called Boomblox, and it has a Jenga-inspired section. He didn't really understand the mechanics and physics of it. So I thought playing the real game would be fun and would help him understand. It certainly did, and he loved building towers and playing the game. Thing Two loved lining up and stacking up the blocks as well.

At lunch break while the boys played, I finished up the laundry for the day, and then started baking. I set out two loaves of bread to rise. DH is playing around with a recipe from mother earth news that says you can have freshly baked bread in five minutes per day. You mix up a big batch on the weekend and leave the dough to sit in the fridge for up to two weeks. You take a chunk, let it come to room temp then bake it. It turned out pretty well. I forgot to slash the top so it busted open and isn't pretty to look at but it tastes yummy. It develops a sourdough flavor the longer it's been in the fridge. This one is about 8 days old.

While two the loaf pans were rising I made blueberry cornmeal muffins from a recipe I got from Family Fun magazine. My kids love blueberries, and love corn muffins so I thought I'd give this a try. I've been looking for good easy breakfasts. We each had one at lunch. I love them. Thing One picked out the blueberries. He says he doesn't like them cooked. Thing Two didn't really eat any of his. On to the next muffin recipe, I guess!

While Thing Two napped, we watched March of the Penguins, read Tacky the Penguin, Gor Vol. 2, and played a simple animal classification file folder game. I made it from a worksheet I got from

Then we played outside, blew bubbles, dug in the dirt, ate dinner, took daddy to class, had a bath and story time, and I put the boys to bed. Whew! It's been a great Monday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Homeschooling 101

I'm Misty. I homeschool my two sons, ages 5 and 2. Perhaps one day I will blog about how we came to decide upon homeschooling. It was a long, twisty journey. I am not surprised that we have ended up here. It seems quite comfortable, like I was supposed to be doing this from the start, only I didn't trust myself enough to choose homeschooling from the beginning.

I don't know if I am a "stereotypical" homeschooling mom. I have a Fine Art degree and a French degree. I worked lousy jobs until our first son was born, at which point my dh's job allowed me to stay home with our son. I have no plans to rejoin the workforce anytime soon. I can't imagine doing any other job than managing our household, educating our kids, and enjoying seeing them grow up. So that makes me "conservative" in a strange way. But I am very politically liberal. I voted for Obama. I'm pro-choice. My dh and I belong to a UU church and choose mostly secular curricula and books. But I am comfortable teaching my kids Bible stories because I want them to be literate about Christianity. I teach them Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim stories for the same reason...I want them to be literate about all world religions.

We live in a suburban area outside of Washington DC, which is a fabulous place to homeschool. We are close to Baltimore, DC, and Annapolis. We are within easy driving distance of NYC, Philadelphia, Richmond, tons of historical sites and great museums. There are tons of co-ops, playgroups, support groups, and umbrella groups in this area.

Some of our homeschool challenges are living in a very small townhouse. Our boys share a room so that we can have a small classroom and office space. We are always cramped for space. Our oldest son is extremely bright but is a handful...He is already reading quite well, can add and subtract numbers up to fifteen, is extremely creative and imaginative, can memorize anything especially if it's set to music. But he is often very oppositional, and has a very difficult time transitioning. Getting him motivated to do anything is a fight. Often every step of our day, from getting dressed to doing a workbox to eating dinner is a battle. It's a little early to tell but it appears that our younger son has a very similar temperament. It's hard to tell if he's just mimicking big brother. There are days I want to run away, or even *gasp* put them in public school and go back to work. I miss my private time. I miss having time to make my own art and quilts and crafts, not just file folder games and lapbooks. But I do some yoga, play some bejeweled blitz, plan some workboxes, and start over again the next day with an open mind and heart.

I am decidely eclectic in my hs approach. I recently discovered the "workbox" system and have set up 12 boxes per day for Thing One as he is affectionately called around here. It is working extremely well for us so far (four weeks in). I'm doing unit study so far. He is choosing the unit theme. We have done dogs, cats, monsters and ships. I will slowly be incorporating Five in a Row, All About Spelling, Miquon Math and Story of the World. All in good time, Thing One's just starting Kindergarten in the fall.

I have a fabulous dh, who is totally supportive of homeschooling. He is the type of dad that is home each day at 5pm to help cook dinner, bathe the kids and read them stories, and take off during the week for a field trip. I could not do this without his loving help and support.