Friday, December 16, 2011

Art Classes

Since September, we have had friends join us on Fridays for an afternoon art class. We usually talk an little about a particular artist, then do an art project using similar techniques. First week was Mondrian, when we studied line and primary colors.
We did a Picasso lesson about portraits, "Fractured Friends."
We discussed Michaelangelo and learned how to paint a fresco. We made our own egg tempera paint with ground chalk and egg yolk, and painted like Giotto. We made fruit and veggie portraits a la Arcimboldo.
We made Christmas ornaments with recycled newspaper pulp and cookie cutters.
This week we made gingerbread houses at our annual "Graham Cracker Spectacular."


My hubby is back on his regular work schedule, after a year-long fellowship on Capitol Hill, so he has every other Friday off of work. Being the awesome dad that he is, he helped the boys build seige weapons this morning while I went to yoga class. We've been studying Roman history, and Thing One is especially interested in military history. He found instructions online here. It only requires popsicle sticks, rubber bands, masking tape, cardstock, and glue or glue. The things used mini-marshmallows for ammunition. Another good reference for building this sort of thing is the book The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek ballistae, Roman onagers, English trebuchets, and more ancient artillery by William Gurstelle.
Here are some building photos.
The battlefield had been cleaned up by the time I got home. I heard the ammo kept disappearing down Thing Two's throat.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Five Things You Never Thought You Would Need in Homeschooling (But you really do)

If you approach teaching your kids with very hands-on projects like I do, these five tools will prove to be useful. 1. Mortar and Pestle I have used my mortar and pestle so many times in the 2.5 years I've been homeschooling. My boys crushed berries to make paint in our prehistory unit; they crushed spices in our cooking unit; they made egg tempera paint by crushing chalk and mixing it with egg in our art class. It is indispensable! 2. Empty Thread Spools You can make great toy cars, vertabrae, pulleys, the list is endless. 3. Digital camera (and video camera) I document almost all of our projects and field trips. The video camera is a go-to tool when I get resistance about studying something "boring." I have my son prepare a report and we videotape his presentation. He is so excited to be on camera, he forgets to be bored. 4. Calling Cards Have you ever met a cool mom at a homeschool class or field trip? Has your child ever made an instant new best friend on the playground? You need family calling cards. We make our own at home on the computer and print them using pre-perforated paper. 5. Lentils Do you love the idea of sensory tubs but hate the mess of sand or water? Lentils are small enough for that sort of task, but large enough for easy clean-up. What is something you use alot that you never imagined you would need?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thing Two, the Self-Styled Scientific Genius

Thing Two just turned five. He is amazing. He just amazes me every day. He obviously has an engineering brain. He is very interested in robots, motors, gears and cogs, how things work. Oh, and alien motherships. But that is a blog entry for another day. Thing Two loves designing and building machines.
He adores legos, k'nex, build and play erector sets, superstructs, and marble race.
His drawings are...amazing. He demonstrates such great fine motor skill and such patience for a barely five year old. I want to wear all of his drawings across my chest everyday so I can brag about them.
Yes,this is a UFO. Again, I must explore this in more detail later.
This is a diagram for how to build a robot. The arrows show you how to assemble the parts. I just can't wait to see this kid grow up and show me what he can really do. Of course, I'm somewhat terrified since he already wants to do chemistry experiments every day and build motors in his room. I'm going to have to do a lot of studying to keep up with this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Service Project of the Day

We belong to a very small UU congregation which cannot afford to hire a cleaning service. So members take turns helping with cleaning efforts.

This morning we met up with another church member to give the place a good clean out. We dusted all the cobwebby corners, rescued about 30 spiders and 20 centipedes and gave them a new outdoor home, swept, mopped and scrubbed. The boys were very good workers.

Afterwards we stopped to have a fast food breakfast treat, which is very rare. The boys chose this instead of being paid $3 off the for-pay chore list.

I will encourage Thing One to write an article about it for the church newsletter, and hopefully we will help encourage other church members to come and pitch in as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Genie Unit Study

Thing One has been reading Dragonball Z books for a while now. After reading about the character Majinn Buu, he was interested to learn more about jinns (or djinn or genies). So I've been putting together a quick unit study.

The Arabian Nights retold by Neil Philip (I would suggest this for older children 10+, or preview it to see if it is appropriate for your family. It deals frankly with sex, violence and is written from a Muslim perspective.)
Arabian Nights: Three Tales retold by Deborah Nourse Lattimore (more friendly for younger children)
The Unce Upon a Time Map Book: Take a Tour of Six Enchanted Lands by B.G. Hennessy (includes a map of Aladdin's kingdom)
Grandmothers' Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures retold by Burleigh Muten (includes a story about a Senegalese Djinn and a midwife)
The Tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves by Eric A. Kimmel
Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps by Linda Chapman and Steve Cole (this is a 326 page novel appropriate for older kids)
The Genie in the Book by Cindy Trumbore (118 page novel more appropriate for a read aloud)

Here is a very useful list of Aladdin movies on IMDb.
Scooby Doo and the Arabian Nights
There are also tons of versions of Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves available.

Mapwork of Muslim countries
Discussion of Islam, the Koran and what Muslims believe about jinn
After reading many stories about genies, I had Thing One compare and contrast descriptions and make drawings of what he imagines a genie to look like.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?

I think our most fun craft was Meringue Genies (borrowed this idea from

Ours turned out really cute! I halved the recipe. The recipe doesn't specify how much cream of tartar. I just put in a pinch. We used raisin eyes and red sugar sprinkles (because that is what we had in the pantry).

You could put together a fun notebooking or lapbooking project or even a poster. I am considering expanding this unit study to include Sinbad the Sailor as well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chemistry is Fun!

We have been having an awesome time with our new curriculum, Real Science 4 Kids: Chemistry Pre-Level 1.

I can't say enough good things about this curriculum. It is so easy to do, and so much fun! The text is well written, has colorful, engaging illustrations, and communicates complicated ideas well to young readers.

Some of the experiments require quite a bit of preparation but are well worth it.

Family Newsletter

We have started doing a monthly family newsletter. It includes short articles about what we are up to as a family, what we are doing in school, and gives the boys a way to publish their artwork and creative writing.

We mailed out our first issue at the end of September, and have received a wonderful response from our family and friends. The things love getting praise for their efforts, and the grandparents love having a brag sheet to share with their friends.

One of the most fun things about the newsletter is that Thing One is including a long story he wrote in serial form. We sent out chapter one in September's newsletter, he's already planning to send a "bonus chapter" in January because that is his birthday month. He is learning so much about how to use a word processing system on the computer, and also how to draft, edit and publish his writing.

We plan on inviting "guest columnists" to write articles for us as well. My uncle is a composer, and the boys want to learn about his creative process. I want to request stories and recipes for the holidays.

I hope this will be a way for our very spread out family and circle of friends to grow closer.

Service Project

We have started helping out our local food bank twice per month. We go by a local warehouse store and pick up any donations, and drop them off at the food bank. It is a simple task, loading and unloading, and it only takes an hour our of our morning, but we feel like we are really helping people. We all agree is it silly to have all that food go to waste.

I did a year of service in AmeriCorps after I finished my bachelor's degrees. It made a huge impact on my life to so much direct service. I want my kids to experience the challenges and the joys of community service.

Coincidentally, we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl this week. (I wish I could plan my lessons so well and thoroughly, but sometimes I just rely on synchronicity and luck.) If, like me, you hadn't read this gem in 20 years, consider revisiting it. It discusses hunger and poverty in a very relatable way.

Ancient Greece Unit Study

With Thing One's interest in Percy Jackson, a study of ancient Greece seemed appropriate this fall. I put together a list of ideas for lessons, using several resources.

Usborne Book of Greek Myths
Story of the World Volume I, text and activity book
Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World
History Pockets Ancient Civilizations
Greek Mythology Activities

Some of my favorite ideas:
Use a compare/contrast chart to compare creation myths.
Go for a nature walk to look at the changing leaves, and talk about the story of Persephone.
Go for a spider hunt and talk about Arachne.
Read about Atlas, and discuss what an atlas is, find some at the library.
Plant narcissus bulbs and read the story of Narcissus.
Read about Daedalus and Icarus, and make candles.
Read about the chimera and make up your own mixed up animals.
Read about sirens and play with sound.
Read about Theseus and the minotaur, and go to a corn maze.
Learn about Greek architecture, and make a gingerbread parthenon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day of School 2011

We had a really great first day today. I got up early and went for a walk, luckily missing the bad weather that plagued the rest of the day. We had some french toast for breakfast, and I introduced the newest permutation of the chore plan to the boys. I got total buy in, until I told Thing One that he can't get credit for any of the for-pay chores until his regular chores for the day-Including Schoolwork-are done. He didn't think that was fair, so we had a long talk about it. He said he already knows everything. He said he can't do a proper backbend because his head is so heavy with knowledge. I reminded him that there are a lot of things he still has to learn, and that I have a legal obligation to teach him since he is not attending public school. He countered with "I'll be happy to do school as long as I get to pick the subject." We agreed that we would study what he is interested in, but that there will be days that I have to introduce other subjects and ideas to fulfill my obligation.

Both Thing One and Thing Two did their everyday morning chores (straightening room, making bed, getting dressed and brushing teeth)and their Wednesday chores (taking the recyclables to the curb).

Thing One begged to do IXL math (since curricula have not arrived yet) and he did that until I literally had to pull him off the computer to return our rental car. Oh yeah, we just bought a new-to-us car when our old one died. Boy, am I glad that we are mostly back to normal after that ordeal. Meanwhile, Thing Two was experimenting in the back yard with a water balloon, and drawing robots.

After returning from the car rental place, we had lunch and then did our chemistry lesson. We're using a Science Wiz chemistry kit, and a Real Science for Kids Pre-Level One Chemistry curriculum. Thing Two has been begging for a chemistry set. Yes, he is only 4 and a half. But he is my little scientist and engineer. Ironically, he deemed today's experiment "boring," but Thing One, my creative artsy child, loved it.

I stopped "school" at that point so I could get some housework and prep work done. I say "stopped" because Thing One spied one of the books I was looking over, Jason and the Argonauts, yoinked it, and read two chapters over afternoon snack. He just finished the five Percy Jackson books over the summer and he is very interested in Greek mythology right now. We will be using Story of the World Volume I, especially the activity book, History Pockets Ancient Civilizations, Greek Mythology Activities, and the Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World, for our study of ancient Greece. I'm hoping to move on to the Roman Empire in the late fall or spring.

We are continuing Voyages in English this year. Thing One is writing his first book on a word processing program, and he is picking up spelling and grammar rules very quickly as the computer underlines any mistakes in red, which he cannot stand. We will be trying Saxon Math for the first time, and doing some geography terminology and map reading. I have put together an art history and fine art curriculum drawn heavily (see what I did there) from Discovering Great Artists, and some homeschooler friends will be joining us each Friday. Thing One has also requested intensive drawing lessons, so we are trying out an online subscription to Mark Kistler's website Imagination Station. Add a few awesome classes and field trips in the DC, Annapolis and Baltimore areas, weekly gymnastics classes, lego club, and chess club, and I think we'll have a great school year!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The End of Summer Wrap Up

We had a great summer! We had a ton of fun finishing 10 of 24 Parkquests. We read tons of books, mostly Goosebumps, Animal Ark, Bernie Magruder, and Percy Jackson.

We also entered some things in the Maryland State Fair. Thing One entered a drawing and his cactus garden.

Thing Two entered a drawing and a painting.

I am so proud!! I think they caught the fair bug, and can't wait to exhibit next year.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to Keep Track of Books

I have a gazillion books in our house. Fiction, non-fiction, reference, homeschooling, just-for-fun. I go to used book sales on a regular basis and I'm always adding to the collection.

Sometimes it would be really helpful to me to see a list of these books to plan lessons. Or to see if I already own that book before I buy it used off a used homeschooling group.

I did what many wise homeschooling moms do to solve this problem: Assigned it to techno-dad.

Here is his solution.

You're welcome.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time Machines

My four year old, Thing Two, has decided to build a time machine. I'm not really sure where this obsession originated. But we have had a lot of fun with the idea.

Here is his latest iteration. He is somewhat disappointed that it *still* doesn't work.

We watched the 1960 version of the movie The Time Machine, a retelling of H.G. Wells classic story. Of course now, he wants to build a machine *just* like that one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Time4Learning

I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. Time4Learning can be used for homeschool, afterschool and summer skill sharpening. Be sure to come back and read about my experience.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cactus garden

Thing One is very interested in cacti. Or perhaps it's more precise to say he is attracted to them. He likes their interesting shapes and colors. Each time we have been to the home improvement store or nursery this spring, he has bought himself a cactus or two. With his own money. That is how much he likes them.

We talked about planting them all together in a cactus garden. At a recent yard sale, I found a perfect container. It's a copper top from an old birdbath. It has handles on it which make it easy to move around.

So recently Thing One and I spent an hour putting together the garden. It's very simple. We bought special cactus potting soil, and stuck them in there. Eventually we will get some pebbles to put around the top. I sprung for a few small succulents to add to the garden.

Thing One is hopeful that his garden will win a ribbon in our county fair in September.

Moles and Voles

We discovered a vole in our front yard, eating leavings from our bird feeder. The things were curious about it (as was I) so we decided to do a mini unit on voles and moles.

There are a surprising number of stories featuring moles. Here are the list of resources I used for our unit.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Mole Music by David McPhail
Mouse and Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee
Tick-Tock, Drip-Drop by Nicola Moon
The Little Gentleman by Philippa Pearce
Seasons of the Moon: Winter Moon by Jean Craighead George
Why Mole Shouted and Other Stories by Lore Segal
What a Treasure by Jane and Will Hillenbrand
Rose and Riley series by Jane Cutler
The Moles and the Mireuk: A Korean Folktale by Holly H. Kwon
Moon Rope/Un lazo a la luna by Lois Ehlert
Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett
Wilfred to the Rescue by Alan MacDonald
The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown

We learned about the similaries and differences between moles and voles, and learned about Silent E.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gymnastics Class

I was too excited to recently find a gymnastics class for homeschoolers offered by my county. Classes for both age groups meet at the same time and place!

The things have really taken to it. The teachers are strict but encouraging (perfect, in my book).

The younger age group mostly does obstacle courses involving somersaults, handstands against a wall, jumping and balancing.

The older class is working on series of movements, like running, jumping from a springboard onto a tall block, landing in a squat, and doing a forward roll down an incline.

Thing Two is excited to learn how to do a handstand (with help), and has been inspired to try to learn to do cartwheels at home.

I get to chat with and network with homeschool moms while they are in class (or read or sew), and I even did a cartwheel one day to help him. Gym class is good for all of us!

Under the Sea

Look what I came downstairs to find!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Curriculum Fair!

I went to my first real curriculum fair today. It was about an hour and ten minute drive away. My friend and I went together which made it more fun, like a mom's day out. I spent some time beforehand going through the vendor's list, marking ones I wanted to be sure and see. It didn't help much, since I ended up walking through almost every stall anyway. I got some great bargains, especially on used books, slightly damaged books, buying complete sets and haggling. Well worth the time!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scheduling our Time

My husband recently took on a fellowship on Capitol Hill, and he is getting home two hours later each evening. I was starting to feel like I was drowning in housework, behind in schoolwork and frustrated with the bickering between my kids and me at the end of every day. So I ordered Managers of Their Homes scheduling system and have been working through it over the past week.

I have read through the book, and I have made my first trial run schedule.

We have been following the morning part of it for three days and I already feel like I'm accomplishing a ton. I'm caught up on dishes and laundry, I've been able to get school done each day and work on some household organizational tasks.

I like the very visual system. I like that I can spend two weeks adjusting here and there as I see what's working and what's not. Updates soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Goodbye chickies!

We returned our chickens to their farm home on Sunday. In one week they had developed tiny wing and tail feathers. Some had even started growing feathers on their feet.

I will miss their cuteness but not their smell!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yes, E Day

My kids are constantly complaining that I Always Say No to Everything Fun. They "never" get to do "anything" they want to do. My four year old had a total meltdown the other afternoon out of such frustration that he *never* gets *his* way.

I read an article several years ago in Wondertime magazine (sadly no longer in print) about having a Yes Day. The mom author of the article promised to say yes to her daughter for a whole day. The idea of a yes day (or hour, week, month, etc) has stuck with me because I think it's great and fun. Kids love to be able to be in charge. But we all know they can't (and should not have to) handle the responsibilities of being in charge all the time.

So I suggested this solution to my sons. A Yes E Day and a Yes H Day. They each penciled in a date on my calendar. We set some guidelines: they each get their own day, so only one boss and less conflict; a budget of what we could spend; rules like I can't say yes to something unsafe or something that would hurt someone.

My friend said her kids would ask "Mommy, can I stay naked all day? Mommy, can I eat off the floor? Mommy, can I eat Daddy's unattended cake?" To these I would reply, "Yes you can stay naked-in our house. If you want to leave our house, you have to get dressed." "Eat away." "No I cannot give you permission to eat someone else's cake. But if you ask Daddy directly, he might let you eat it in the spirit of Yes E Day."

So the day began with seven-year-old E requesting to watch television (an no-no on school mornings) and a special breakfast of French toast and bacon. We skipped the usual academics for playing, writing an email, drawing pictures, pleasure reading. He decided he wanted to go have lunch at the mall. He requested Chik-fil-A but when he saw the ridiculous line, he headed for Five Guys burgers, and got sidetracked by a sample of mall "Cajun" bourbon chicken. He ordered a plate of that with two vegetables on the side (corn and carrots), foregoing the rice/pasta for an extra vegetable. He chose lemonade for a drink. He and his brother shared food peacefully while I got mall sushi, then we headed upstairs to see Gnomeo and Juliet at the movie theater. His budget was gone after lunch and movie tickets, so we skipped treats at the theater.

We headed back toward home and stopped at a local park to meet some friends for a playdate. It had just been renovated (unbeknownst to us) and the kids had a fabulous time. We headed home for a snack break. E wanted to play Wii so he played for about two hours while I read a book to his brother, who passed out in my lap.

For dinner, we had no budget left so E chose from what we already had on our weekly menu. He chose chicken nuggets and salad.

His last request was to stay up a half-hour later than his usual bedtime to watch his favorite television show.

What most surprised me is that he never asked for candy or soda the whole day. I expected he would balk at the usual personal hygeine stuff, or cleaning up toys, or would ask to wear his kajamas all day. But he did those things just like normal routine without fussing. I expected him to be sort of clingy and want my undivided attention...for playing games, reading out loud to him, etc. I had prepared myself mentally to be totally focused on him all day, but that didn't really happen. I had lots of time to read, get a little sewing done, household chores, play with little brother. E was obviously much more interested in getting out of our house and doing fun stuff. This is a good reminder that he is very extroverted, and I am very introverted, and I need to plan "out of our house" time more often.

This coming Tuesday is Yes H Day. With him being the younger of the two boys (he's four) I thought it would be smart to let E go first, so that H would have a better idea of what kind of things he is allowed, and see that Mom says no to the things that are outside our agreed-upon boundaries. Last night as he got in bed, he told Daddy he wanted to change his special day to today! Of course, Mom said no.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Eleven, Eleven Baby Chicks, Aaaah, aaaah, aaah

We jumped on an opportunity to rent an incubator and raise some chicks from eggs. We have done a whole unit on eggs and chickens.
We started with 18 fertilized eggs. We read all the instructions for the incubator which involved keeping a bottom tray partially filled with water to maintain humidity, maintaining a temperature of about 100 degrees F, and marking and turning the eggs daily.

Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. At day 6 we candled the eggs. We candled again at day 20 and removed two eggs that were obviously not fertile. On day 21 we started hearing cheeps from the incubator and saw tiny cracks in a couple of eggs. By the following evening, we had 11 healthy hatched chicks, and one that started hatching but didn't completely hatch.

We are keeping the chicks for a week then returning them and the incubator to the farm from which they came. They are so cute and fuzzy. They are relatively easy to care for. They need a heat lamp, water, and chick starter feed. We borrowed a cage to use as a brooder, and lined the bottom with pine shavings. Our two cats are very curious about them, but don't bother them much.
Our egg unit reading list:
Egg to chick by Millicent E. Selsam This is the most awesome book ever for this project. It shows the development of the chick at many stages. Be forewarned that is deals frankly with sexual reproduction.
The Chicken Book by Garth Williams
Chicks and Chickens by Gail Gibbons
An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni