Thursday, August 26, 2010

Teaching Patience (With a Sweet Reward)

Last week, which was supposed to be a completely school-free week, my two littles decided they just had to do a science experiment. Like, right now. This is the sort of enthusiasm I just don't have it in me to squash, even if it wasn't on my clean-the-house-and-get-organized-before-school-starts agenda.

They found an experiment in our new experiment book for growing crystals. But the one in the book just had them grow crystals with "washing soda" (it's a British book). Boring! OK, they probably grow faster, but honestly... wouldn't you rather grow crystals with sugar? Yum.

So I found a recipe online, and we made up our super duper sugar syrup. We put 2 cups of water on to boil, and gradually mixed in 4 cups of sugar. Yes, you read that right. Twice as much sugar as water. Oh, and some blue food coloring.

Sugar syrup

We carefully poured into jars, and dangled strings into each jar (strings that had been rolled in sugar and tied to a pen to suspend them over the jars). And we watched. And we waited.

Day 1

It's six days later, and we are still watching and waiting. We have crystals now (yay!), and if we wanted to, we could yank out those strings and enjoy some delicious rock candy right this very minute. We could! But, see... if we wait a bit longer, the crystals will have more of a chance to form, and the candy will be bigger.

Crystals forming, day 6

In other words, I have created the ultimate test of patience. This is called delayed gratification, people, and I am watching it unfold day by day. So far, the lure of future candy is still greater than the desire for candy now, and the jars remain undisturbed. But when will we be unable to resist any longer? How long will we let the crystals grow?

Crystals on top

Man, I hope these kids cave soon. I could really go for something crunchy and sweet...

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Closer Look

We have the coolest new toy. For months now, I've been wanting to get a simple microscope. No preparing of slides, no mega-powered lenses, just a simple tool for looking closely at stuff. So I saw a good review for the Zorb in a homeschooling resource catalog, and thought that sounded just about right. It's small, it connects directly to the computer, and you can save pictures of what you see. Cool.

Pumpkin leaf 2

Then I saw it was only $29 at Amazon and clicked "Buy Now." An impulse buy, to be sure.

Hey, sometimes I have good instincts.

Man, this thing is cool. I mean, cool. I can't even tell you how many lightbulb moments we've had around here in the past few days. And not just from the kids! Even my husband confessed that only now does he truly understand the difference between woven and knit fabric.

See? Woven:

Woven fabric

And knit:

Knit fabric

At 35x magnification, those fabrics look really, really different.

You know how a strawberry has its seeds on its skin? Yeah, they look like this:


Ever wondered how sharp a thumbtack really is? It's this sharp:


And granulated sugar really is made up of little crystals.


It's amazing how much knowledge can be right in front of you, if only you take a closer look.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This Moment: Sorting the College Mail

The great college mail sort

No words, just a moment from this past week I want to pause and savor. Inspired and hosted each week by Amanda over at SouleMama.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Fruit Fly Trap

Fruit fly trap

When we got home from vacation, someone had moved in in our absence. Fruit flies. Lots and lots and (shudder) lots of fruit flies. Can you say, gross?

Our fault -- we hadn't taken the last trash out, left some fruit in the fruit bowl, etc. In other words, we ran out the door without thinking too clearly and about what we were leaving behind. Oops.

So yesterday, as part of my efforts at trying to get life back to normal around here, I put together a fruit fly trap. Let me say, we have tried various versions of this many times before with very little luck. I was not optimistic, but I was desperate. Lo and behold, this time it really worked.

I mean, really worked. And since following the various instructions you find online to the letter had never yielded much for me before, I'm sharing with you my magic recipe for trapping fruit flies. Because I am no longer waving my way through a crowd of fruit flies to get to the sink, and that makes me happy.

In a vase or other narrow-necked vessel (a beer or glass soda bottle would work well), put the following mixture:

2 teaspoons of honey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
a couple of strawberry tops

Then make a paper cone funnel with a small hole at the narrow end, and stick it in the bottle, narrow end down. Tape all the way around where the bottle meets the funnel to make a seal.

And wait. Mwahahaha. They will be helpless in the face of your sinister plans. None shall survive, I tell you! [cue organ music]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Things I Learned On the Road

We just got back from a family road trip to Wisconsin and back. It's been a crazy, crazy 10 days, and now I am launching into full end-of-summer panic mode, but first, I just want to pause and reflect on what I learned on this latest adventure.

1. My extremely tall two-and-a-half year old can, in a pinch, still sleep in a Pack n Play. And he will insist that he fits, even when his head and feet are literally pushing out the mesh at each end.

2. When looking at colleges, there really is no substitute for actually looking at colleges. Also, college campuses tend to be great places for little kids to let off steam.

3. Six people can share one bathroom. Comfortably.

4. Driving seven hours in one day is a cake walk compared to driving twelve hours in one day. CAKE WALK.

5. A five-year-old can hike quite a long way if there are chocolate chip pancakes waiting for her at the other end.

6. The best way to get a 17-year-old to do her summer reading is to remove her from her friends and stick her in a rustic cabin for a week.

7. My two-year-old son sings himself to sleep. (He sleeps with the door closed at home, so I had no idea.)

8. Mad Libs are a great way to teach the parts of speech.

9. Twenty Questions? It needed improving. So my five-year-old turned it into 105 Questions. And the starting question isn't "animal, vegetable, or mineral," it's "solid, liquid, gas, or plasma."

10. There are a lot of wind turbines in Indiana. A lot. I know some people think they're eyesores, but I thought they looked so graceful as they slowly turned. Very cool.

Wind turbines in Indiana

11. I am apparently the only person in my family who suffers from feeling like her organs are being squashed after sitting in a car all day. And if you use a term like "organ squashage" to describe said feeling, your 17-year-old might actually go into convulsions.

12. Based on the farms I passed along the way (and it was a LOT, people), we eat only two things in this country: corn and soybeans. We may think we eat other things, but primarily it's going to boil down to corn and soybeans.

13. If a huge fish has been lurking under a pier long enough to have earned the nickname "Sneaky Pete" and a reputation for frustrating fishermen, a two-year-old is not going to be able to catch him with a piece of hot dog on the end of a "Pirates of the Carribean"-themed fishing pole. This will not prevent him from trying, however. Every day.

14. A quiet cottage on a lake is the perfect place to embark upon a new creative endeavor.

15. Cooking for six people in a postage-stamp-sized kitchen with a tiny apartment-sized stove and no dishwasher forces creativity, but can totally be done.

16. After living with a dishwasher for many years, it's actually kind of nice to hand-wash dishes.

17. A garden, left largely to its own devices for 10 days of August Maryland weather, will outgrow its raised beds and attempt to transform your backyard into a jungle.


18. The legendary Garlic Cheeseburger (aka. GCB), as frightening as it sounds, is actually pretty good. Also: it's a cheeseburger on garlic bread.

19. A little boy, who has been up with the sun (or before!) every day of his two-and-a-half years of life, but who has been traveling and sleeping in strange beds for ten days, might be tired when he gets home. He might be so tired that he sleeps past 9 AM for the first time EVER.

20. The ability to identify poison ivy is one of those lifelong skills that really comes in handy.

Poison ivy

21. Travel is exciting and full of surprises, but the best part is how much it makes you appreciate being home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Our Kindergarten Curriculum

Last year, when I was researching homeschooling, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading through homeschooling blogs, trying to get a sense of what homeschooling really looks like. I was thrilled to stumble upon the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop, hosted last year by Darcy at My 3 Boybarians. This year, it's being hosted by Heart of the Matter, but the gist is the same -- each week, participating bloggers post about a particular theme related to their homeschool. And this year... um, I guess I have a homeschool. So here we go.

Curriculum week! Since I have been researching homeschooling in general and particular curricula for quite a while now, it was exciting to finally take the plunge and place those orders. Here is what we've decided to use for our kindergarten year.

(Please note: I do have a two-year-old at home as well, who is along for the ride on all these adventures. I do not have any particular curriculum I am following for him, besides including him as much as possible on his own level with whatever I am doing with his sister. He is learning so much just by osmosis, that I will not pursue anything formal with him until next year at the very earliest.)

Math - We're using RightStart, level A. We have completed 13 lessons so far, and absolutely love the program. It takes the time to build an intuitive sense for numbers, and I am amazed at how well my daughter is already able to do mental addition. The manipulatives are also wonderful, and serve as a great diversion for curious two-year-olds.

Reading/Spelling - We are using All About Spelling (level 1) as both a reading program and a spelling program. The whole concept of teaching word-building tools to both decode (read) and encode (spell) words makes so much sense to me. It always struck me as odd for these two skills (which are two sides of the same coin, really) to be taught separately. I can see how much it has helped with her reading already, and am pretty sure we will be moving on to level 2 by mid-year. The program is also sensory-rich, with a lot of word-building using magnetic letters. This really helps to keep my girl engaged. She is also doing independent reading to me every day, as well as reading for her own pleasure. She particularly loves the Dick and Jane books, and -- get this -- the McGuffey readers (first published in 1838). Oh yeah, we're kickin' it old school around here...

McGuffey Readers (used for $10)

Grammar/Language Arts - We have been playing a great game called Very Silly Sentences to learn the parts of speech, and also doing MadLibs on our many road trips this summer. Once we get into a nice routine this fall, I will gradually blend in First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, but at a relaxed pace since it is technically for first grade. We'll just see how it goes. And in terms of literature, we're going to keep doing what we have been doing every day for the past several years: read. Read, and read, and read. I generally read things aloud to her that are far above her official grade level, and she has the vocabulary to show for it. Some of last year's read-alouds included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Hobbit. Some of the titles I have lined up for this year:

Magic or Not?
Little House in the Big Woods
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Alice In Wonderland
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Totally subject to change based on the whims of the moment, of course, but this gives me a place to start if we're ever stuck for a book.

Handwriting - The preschool where she did PreK last year used Handwriting Without Tears, and since it seemed to be working for her, I just went ahead and ordered the next workbook. So far so good. She is still writing a hodge-podge of upper-case and lower-case letters in a variety of sizes, so my goal for her for the year is to be able to print legibly using appropriate case. Ha! It's good to dream big. In any case, we'll keep working on it.

Budding activist

History/Geography - Not to put down the importance of learning about community helpers or anything, but she already did that, for the past two years in preschool. She's learned about firefighters and police officers and all the usual preschool social studies jazz. Important, for sure! But we're skipping over the usual kindergarten social studies curriculum and going straight for history and geography. And to paraphrase Julie Andrews, the beginning is a very good place to start, so we're using The Story of the World Volume 1 (Ancients), supplemented with additional reading from the library. Very fun! We are also making a timeline to make sense of the chronology of history, and using mapwork from the SOTW activity guide to incorporate geography studies.

Science/Nature - This is the one subject for which we are not using a curriculum at all. My girl is naturally very science- and nature-oriented, so I am simply following her interest. We are reading a lot, checking out DVD's from the library, going on field trips, etc. She will also continue to work on her nature journal on our frequent nature walks, and keep her birdwatching log book. In some subject areas, having to make it all up myself would give me an anxiety attack, but in this arena, it feels very freeing. This is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling -- I get to indulge her interests and allow her to dig as deep as she wants into the areas that most interest her. Should be fun.

Physical Education - Since I'm not exactly a paragon of virtue when it comes to exercise, this is definitely an area where we need outside structure! She just started a twice-weekly tae kwon do class, and will play on a soccer team in the fall. When soccer is over, I'll see whether I think the TKD is sufficient, or whether we should look for some other kind of winter activity (gymnastics, maybe?). For now, I think she's all set.

Whew! So that's our curriculum choices. I am really excited to dive in truly full-time when big sister starts her [gulp] senior year in high school. Oh, what a year we have ahead of us...