Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hands on play

I often forget how much my kids enjoy play dough. I loved it when I was a kid. My mom used to make it and I loved playing with it while it was still warm from the stove. It is a great wintertime activity. We are hitting the cold of winter (it didn't get above freezing yesterday, sigh) so I have been looking for things to entertain the kids. And yesterday I remembered play dough. My mom lost her recipe once we grew out of that stage, but I was fortunate to be the recipient of a recipe for homemade play dough a couple of years ago. We have been happily using it ever since. I don't buy it any more, I just make it. It is cheap, it is easy, it is more malleable than the store bought stuff, you can make whatever color you want, and there is nothing in it that I would be afraid to ingest. My kids can spend the better part of a day playing with this stuff, so it is well worth the 5 to 10 minutes it takes to make a batch (that is without color, adding the color takes a bit longer, but you get an arm work out while you knead it in). Here is the recipe I use:

Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Heat on the stove (over medium heat) until it is "play dough" consistency. Stir constantly because it will thicken suddenly. Knead in food coloring when cool enough to handle.

So easy, and so much fun. I did see another recipe I want to try that uses kool-aid to color it. I'll let ya know how that goes!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting with kids

Our daily walk today took us to our local precinct to vote. Hubby stayed home from work so he could avoid the rush in what is expected to be a high turnout election. We prepared for the worst. We had snacks, and books, and toys for the kids. Yes, we could have taken turns going to the polls and staying with the kids, but Kiddo has been to every poll since his birth. I think the process is important enough that I always take the kids with me. It also opens a lot of conversational doors: what we are voting for, why we vote, why we chose to vote the way we did. I think I am a more informed voter because I expect to have to explain my position to a 5 year-old. I feel like I have to have some idea of what I am saying in order to make sure I am explaining it in a way he can understand. I tend to avoid political conversations in most circles, but not with my kids. They were both fascinated by the process and we did not need the provisions. We got in and out in no time. I think it took me longer to fill out the ballot than it did to do anything else. Tonight I hope to pop some popcorn and watch the returns trickle in. We'll see how much of that the kids are interested in.

A nice day at the park

In November it is very odd for me to say we had a nice day at the park. But yesterday's highs were in the 70's, so we took a walk to the park. The kids loved it, as usual. Kiddo wanted to use our five senses on everything. I have never had to listen to so much dirt before! Kutey conquered a new ladder on the equipment, just in time for winter and HOPEFULLY new equipment in the spring. Our park is a wreck. They have put metal plates in at least 7 places, one of which was a landing that actually fell through. The others are just exceptionally worn places. They have also closed a slide because it is cracked. Many of the other parks in my city have received updated equipment. Ours has not. Ours is one of the bigger parks in the city, and serves a large geographic area, but they have put replacing the equipment on the back burner while they build a new Environmental Learning Center. I am excited for the ELC, but I still want a usable park. I am afraid by spring we won't have one...

But for this warm spell in November, it served its purpose. We had fun, we got some much needed fresh air, and I think I can safely say it was the best part of the day for me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Making manipulatives

For the past week or so, I have been spending much of my free time using scissors. I have been cutting out pumpkins to write sight words on. Then cutting them out again once I have put the contact paper on them. I had done just the sight words, but then Kiddo decided to use them to write stories. So he requested a few other words. I made those. Then I realized that I could make Kutey some cards that had the letters on them, since that is what we are working on right now with her. So back to the printing and cutting I went. I have been using this sheet, printed on orange paper, to make the cards. It works out pretty well. They are a pretty good size, though I did shrink the ones for the letters--Kutey has small hands. Kiddo has enjoyed using them. We are charting his recall of the sight words, getting some math skills in with our reading skills. Hubby suggested seasonal cards, turkeys next, then snowflakes or maybe bells then snowflakes, hearts, shamrocks, eggs, etc. I think he'll have to help with the cutting!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pumpkin Jack

This week we are focusing on pumpkins/bats/spiders in honor of Halloween. The book for the week is Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell. I am LOOSELY using this unit from one of my favorite resources, Homeschool Share.

It will take us more than one week to get through everything, simply because of all the other things we have scheduled this week. We didn't really start it until yesterday, because I didn't pick the book up from the library until Tuesday. The book is adorable. Kiddo loved it, and already has plans for planting his own pumpkin seeds and sharing the pumpkins with others when they are ready. He doesn't know my poor history with gardening....

Today we will focus on the applied math activities as well as the language activity of description, mostly because we need to get the pumpkins carved and those activities will be trickier once that happens.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pumpkin Festivities

Our week long celebration of Pumpkins (and Halloween) has begun! By the end of this week, I suspect I will not want to see another pumpkin for a long while.

We started the week (on Saturday) by going to pick out our pumpkins. A friend of ours has a farm and they have been progressively adding things to their fall offerings. This year they had hayrides, a puzzle maze (which was VERY tricky), and a pick your own pumpkin patch in addition to the corn box (picture a sandbox filled with corn kernels), straw bale maze, and prepicked pumpkins they had last year. We had a great time, and got to do everything but the hayride in the short time we were there. We opted out of the hayride since my family's hayride was later that night. The same friends bring a hay rack and we go after dark. It was a perfect night for it!

The rest of the week is filled with parties (2 of them), a trip to the local nursery for their fall fun, and of course trick-or-treating (at the zoo!) In amongst that, I hope to get some lessons in. Most of them will circle around pumpkins. I am thinking about doing a science piece on decay, we'll have to see how brave I am!

What are you doing for Halloween?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Teaching reading

When I started thinking about homeschooling, I started doing web searches. Lots of web searches. I knew only a few people in real life who homeschooled. So I was looking for what others did, how they did things, and what "curriculum" they used. The one homeschooler I knew well recommended Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, so I figured I would use that. After all, she used it with her kids and they were fully able to read! I looked into a number of other methods, but returned to "Teach" because, well, I really had no way of knowing what the other methods would be like! That said, I have been perfectly happy with "Teach." We are just over half way done with the lessons, and I am pleased with the progress Kiddo has made. He can sound out words, he has a good handle on quite a few sight words, and he actually enjoys the stories. I know some reviewers think the stories are corny. I have a kid who likes corny, so the stories work for us.

I needed something to supplement, however. I needed books Kiddo could read without struggling. I needed books he could be successful with, to encourage him to read. After a bit of searching, and having Bob Books appear regularly, I decided to try them. At first glance, I thought no way. The stories are too simple, the pictures are too simple, there is no way Kiddo will like these. But I had them from the library for 3 weeks, so why not, right? Right. So I tired them. And what do you know, he likes them! He has finished set one. I have been trying to convince him to go back and read them again, and perhaps again, until they become books he can read without sounding out ANY words. He can do that for some, but not all. I would love for him to be able to read them "the fast way."

I have yet to spend a dime on these things. I have checked them out of the library. That has freed up some of the homeschool budget for things like field trips, which we have been doing with regularity! Gotta love the library!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Works

The Works is a great little treasure in our area. It is a hands-on science center, where kids can learn about all sorts of science topics through interactive exhibits. It isn't huge, but that makes it manageable with kids. We have been there twice now, for their homeschool days, and have yet to cover the whole thing. And it really isn't very big! The kids just get very into one thing or another and that is all they want to do. Today we explored simple machines--gears, pulleys, levers--and then focused our attention, and time, on the marble track pieces.

They also have experiements you can go and do. This week it was mixture madness. So much fun. Kiddo learned about density of liquids and chemical reactions (namely baking soda and vinegar). It was fun. When I get a few minutes, I'll write up the experiment and post it, because it is one you can do in your very own kitchen! And it was easy enough for Kutey to do, with just a bit of help!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Too many resources

I like to "shop" online. I rarely actually buy, but I like to look. I am a SUCKER for the word "SALE." Now that I am homeschooling, I find that I have even more shops to look at! I am finding that I could easily get overwhelmed with resources. They are abundant in the online stores. But this is kindergarten, do I really NEED an Organic Structure Modeling Kit, even if it is almost half off? Probably not. And if I get the Daily Math Reinforcers, how do I know they are worth it? There are so many things out there that seem great, but until I see them, how am I going to know? If I bought everything I thought might be good, or neat, or cool, I wouldn't have room in my house to move! Not to mention we would never get around to using even half of it. So I shop, fill my cart, and never purchase. It hasn't hurt me so far!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The week in review

Again, I am finding how easy it would be to never be home as a homeschooler. We have been keeping ourselves quite busy.

Monday we went to the Como Planetaruim for "The Sky." Mr. Brinkman was FANTASTIC! He kept the kids involved and active. There was movement (which is great for kiddo, who likes to move while he is learning!) and he threw in a good deal of humor. I can't wait to go back.

Thursday we participated in a Read for the Record event. Afterward we went to the park and played for well over an hour, then went for our daily walk.

Friday we went to Cedar Summit Dairy with a homeschool group, followed by nearly 3 hours at the park playing and having a picnic.

Saturday we were lucky enough to have access to The NASA Vision for Space Exploration Experience, which was deemed worthy of the 45 minute wait in line by Kiddo. We also saw a bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and great horned owl from the Raptor Center, and watched Physics Force explain better toilet papering through physics, among other things.

Sunday saw us picking apples at the orchard, after the rain had passed.

In amongst all of that, there was all of the regularly scheduled stuff to do! I am beginning to think we should call it "School on the road!"

Apple Orchard

It is that time of year again! Apple season. I love going to the orchard and picking my own apples. Thankfully, the kids enjoy it, too, and we have made it a yearly outing the last three years.

Last year I did quite a bit of apple themed study around the time of our trip to the orchard. This year I am not quite as prepared. I should pull out the apples I laminated last year and use them for math, I suppose. I also think we will do some apple painting, because it was a huge hit last year.

This year, however, Kiddo is looking forward to all the things we can make with apples. He wants to help make apple pie and apple crisp. He has also requested that we make apple sauce (Sid the Science Kid did it, so now we need to!)

But here's the great thing: Kutey thinks the apples are a treat! It isn't like we don't buy apples, but we haven't had them for a bit. She keeps asking to eat them. There are much worse things she could want. I just hope 13 pounds of apples is enough!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One Month In

We have officially made it through the first month. Whew. The fear I had about doing this whole homeschooling thing has largely subsided. I have met a great group of homeschoolers with whom we have spent many happy mornings in the park. Two hours flies by in the company of those families! Kiddo also attended his first homeschool art class, a fabulous success in his eyes (I believe the first thing he asked when we were driving away was "Mommy, did you sign me up for the REST of the classes they have?"). We attended the first homeschool day at The Works, where we made a bridge out of various types of pasta. Following that, there was a request to purchase said pasta so we could make more bridges. I know he is learning from these outings. He can still tell me why they use triangles in bridges, why that tunnel looks like a half circle, why that was the shape they chose, and on and on.

We also got to spend a week on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Math was done on the beach with rocks. Physics was done on the beach with rocks. History, Science, Social Studies, and Art (among other things!) were covered with trips to Split Rock Lighthouse and Grand Portage National Monument, and on the beach with rocks. Reading lessons took place snuggled together under the quilt on the couch. Or once outside on the campfire chairs listening to the roar of the lake. Learning was everywhere.

One thing I rediscovered about this kid, he loves to go to the places like Split Rock and Grand Portage, but he doesn't really enjoy the tours. He tolerates them and is never rude, but what he really enjoys is being able to watch someone doing things they would have done back then and asking a million and a half questions. Grand Portage last year was a place we spent at least 4 hours. They had people in every building telling about the space and talking about what they were doing. We watched a man process wild rice in the Native American village for a long, LONG, time. We watched the cook make bread, test the oven, and then move on to cooking other items. The living history model is best for him. Split Rock was that way this year, Grand Portage had gone to the tour only mode already. We were fortunate that there was a gentleman finishing work on a birch bark canoe, and Kiddo was full of questions there. He was VERY patient with Kiddo, who was tired and didn't ask his questions very, well, he didn't use words much. But the canoe builder stuck around for a very long time to let Kiddo watch what he was doing and answer his questions. I have made a mental note to check on the status of the living history programming before we go places like that.

Finally, in the month that we have been working on it, Kiddo is reading! Granted, they are small words, and small books, but he can read, and he does so spontaneously. I am realizing, however, that the English language is a most confusing one. He will read words, and I will realize he is following the rules he has been taught, but that the word he is reading doesn't follow the rules. Sigh. We will get there. I am sure. I have a new respect for those who come to this country and try to learn English. UCK!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Daily walking

For a long time I have wanted to get into the habit of taking a walk everyday. I always have some excuse, generally a lack of time. And sometimes that it is too hard to walk with the kids. When we started "school" one of the first things I implemented was a daily walk. The kids and I go out and walk "the triangle," a small area in our neighborhood where, oddly, three streets come together to make a triangle. It is a block from our house, and 3 blocks for the triangle, then a block back to our house. We are certainly not breaking any distance records, but the kids can walk it all on their own, no strollers are required, and we get out of the house each day. We have occasionally been able to make the walk a bit longer, too. The best part, though, are the spontaneous lessons that happen as we walk, and the conversations we get to have.

Tonight, Kiddo and I walked farther than the triangle. It was just the two of us, and we walked at sunset. The beauty of walking hand in hand with a child while you stop and use your five senses to explore the rock at the edge of the path, to touch it, smell it, look closely at it, listen to it, and pretend to taste it, cannot be matched by anything else. And as we walked by houses with kitchen lights on and looked in at the school age children and their parents looking distressed as they bent over the nights homework, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunity I have been given to learn beside my child.

Yes, daily walking is a time of spontaneous lessons for all of us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Before I started officially homeschooling, I was a stay-at-home mom for nearly 2 years, worked for a bit, and came back home. In that time, I had done some school "stuff." We went to the zoo regularly. We went on a couple of preschool field trips organized by local homeschoolers. But I never committed to much. We weren't in any classes. We didn't go to many activities. We spent many days learning at home, in the backyard, or at the local park.

Fast forward to now. I have booked 3 days this week with 2 in the morning and one in the afternoon. What was I thinking! It is Tuesday and we are already tired and neglecting the things that we should be doing, like our daily walk. They are good activities, but it is so easy to become overextended. I am going to have to take a serious look at our calendar and make sure this week doesn't happen again! The good thing is that so far, everything we have done Kiddo has enjoyed and has asked if we can do it again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reading the classics aloud

I have it in my head to read aloud to the kids every night. Not the typical kids books that we read all day long, but something meatier, something longer, something that requires them to maintain the storyline until the next day. We have started with one of my favorites, The Little House series. I remember my mom reading them to my sisters and I when we were young. So that is a great place to start. But where do I go next? What books would my kids enjoy? What are considered the classic, must read books? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Day One

Today is the first day of school for public school kids. In my head I have been thinking that this is our first day of school, too. The reality is, however, that nothing has really changed. We are continuing the way we have been for weeks, and really, we never stopped "school." So the difference is really only in my head.

We did, however, have a good "first day of school." Kiddo, the five-year-old, and Kutey, the 2-and-a-half-year-old, did quite a bit of experimenting with different weights and "parachutes" over the edge of our railing, shaping them differently, attaching differeing numbers of clothespins, and realizing that the more clothespins you put onto a paper napkin parachute, the faster it will fall.

We also went for a walk around the triangle of streets near our house, looking for other triangles as we walked. We found many in the roof-lines of the various houses in the neighborhood. We also found semi-circles, a newer concept.

The one thing that changed today was that we started learning to read in earnest. Kiddo can read a few words and has known all his letters and their sounds for quite some time. He likes to listen to stories, but in spite of my efforts has had little interest in learning to read. That changed today, however, when we started working through the lessons in this book. He was so successful with the first lesson he wanted more. Now I know, I should stick to one lesson a day, but really, it was all review for him. And he was loving it. So we kept going. 5 lessons done today. We won't be able to keep that pace, but it was great for the first day!

Now, let's just hope we can keep our momentum up for the rest of the week!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A new chapter begins

For the last few years, we have toyed with the idea of homeschooling. As Kiddo will be of the appropriate age for kindergarten this fall, a decision was imminent. And so, I left my job (really I had only been back for a few months, and that was on a trial basis for me), and we are starting to homeschool. We have had moments of school throughout the last year or so, and Kiddo is very into the idea. he tells everyone he goes to homeschool. So now I need to begin to be somewhat more intentional about our process. I am following no set curriculum, I am simply following the lead of kiddo and the list of subjects we should cover. It is a whole new process for all of us, and one that I am thoroughly looking forward to.