Thursday, March 5, 2009

We finished "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and read some other read-alouds, "No Flying in the House" by Betty Brock, "Black and Blue Magic" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and "The Famous Five, book 1" by Enid Blyton.

We read part of "What is a Constitution?" and talked about the big picture concepts. I've also read one of the "Sir Cumference" math books to Ben and I really loved it! We will be looking for more Sir Cumference books in the future.

Right now, I'm getting ready to sign everyone up for summer camps. I missed the animation and rocketry camps for Ben because we were out of town when members-only signup began. It looks like the Roamer Robotics camp is still open so I'll try to register for that one today.

The Roamer Robotics camp is designed for his age level, but I need to find out which math skills it requires so we can brush up on those. Speaking of math, I'm looking for some "math puzzles" that the kids fell in love with on vacation. Our rental villa had these puzzles with multiplication problems on the back of each piece; the answer revealed which slot the piece should go into. They were obsessed with them! I guess it's a fun way to memorize multiplication facts.

I need to get them ready for co-op right now...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Our current read-aloud is "Voyage of the Dawn Treader".

Yesterday, we read part of "Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution" by Steve Jenkins. We read about the rough timeline for the development of life on Earth. We learned a little about Charles Darwin. And we learned what "natural selection" means, with a frog example.

Similes, from December

This is something we did in December and I meant to record it here.

"We've been talking about similes at home, because we ran across some in the Hobbit (our nightly read-aloud) and I've been talking a lot about the language that Tolkien uses to create images in our heads...Hang on...actually, it's mostly metaphors but there is one simile in there. The dragon, Smaug, describes himself to Bilbo:
"My armour is like ten-fold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, and the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane and my breath death!"

That was too good to pass up! I love that passage! It's way more interesting than saying, "My armour is really tough, my teeth are sharp and so are my claws...."

I thought similes would be easier to explain than metaphors so that's what I did. B needed to let it sink it a little, but T got it right away. I think T is going to be my liberal arts buddy. Anyway, T has been making lots of similes and announcing them to me. It's so cute. Some of the similes he's made are:
"This lantern is like the sun."
"Mashed potatoes are like clouds."
(I told him that you often have to tell a reader WHY they are like those things).
"Mama's hair is as fluffy as cotton-balls."
And this is my FAVORITE one:
"Your belly is as squishy as a jumping-house."

Anyway, similes are fun. And they're easy to do with kids; it's easy for kids to make them, I mean. Look at some of the things we read that had similes in them:
"Mary had a little lamb, *It's fleece was white as snow.*"

"Twinkle twinkle little star....*like a diamond in the sky*."

And from "Twas the night before Christmas":
"His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!""

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote somewhere. We did finish reading the Hobbit and based on the kids' questions and MY questions to them, I feel confident that they understood what we read.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

B has been very taken with a dinosaur called "Coelophysis". It's one of several dinosaurs on his placemat.

He's done many things in his pursuit to learn more about coelophysis:
1. He's borrowed dh's measuring tape to see how long the dinosaur is. He used both feet and meters.
2. He was desperate to know how tall coelophysis was so I showed him how to use Wikipedia. We found the answer to his question, in addition to seeing lots of interesting pictures of coelophysis fossils and illustrations.
3. We learned how to pronounce coelophysis and what the name means in Greek. We also learned that "saurus" means "lizard".
4. He read several bits of information on coelophysis in his various dinosaur books and in the "Peterson Field Guide to Dinosaurs". I showed him how to use the index in the field guide.
5. He learned what "biped" meant.

He is extremely excited that a coelophysis fossil is in the London Natural History Museum, because it's one of the places we're going to on our England trip next fall. Wiki showed a photograph of the exact fossil that's in this museum.

I have promised to read his evolution book to him. He can read it, but it's always nice to have someone read to you. I need to remember to do this!


My kids have been obsessed with playing a board game called, "Money Bags". It teaches American coins and it requires lots of addition. The object of the game is to earn money. The money that can be earned is usually an untidy sum like 13 cents. So, while playing the game, you must do lots of addition and skip-counting. It's a great little game.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I MUST start updating this more often. It makes it difficult to remember what we've done. Essentially, I'm at the point where I have to give a portfolio summary for this first half of the year. B is 7 and would be in second grade. T is not old enough to be in school yet, based on the birthday cut-off, which he misses by a month and a half. I still consider him to be in K and it cheers him up to tell people that he's in kindergarten. T has just turned 5. Anyway...

This has mostly taken the form of nature studies this year. B has spent a lot of time learning about arthropods, both with library books and by first-hand examination. A month or so ago, he caught a Chinese mantid with a zippered insect bag that I bought him. We used a field guide to determine that it was a Chinese mantid, rather than a praying mantis. After keeping it for a few hours, he released it. Originally, he was trying to feed it leaves, but he learned that mantids are carnivores.

He also started a dead arthropod collection. So far, he has a wolf spider, a dragonfly, and a colorful moth that we haven't identified yet. Oh, and he has a mystery beetle. We learned that there are a tremendous amount of beetles.

We've also made leaf prints and learned about how different trees have different leaf shapes.

We've examined animal scat (deer) and animal tracks. For the deer tracks we found (and one little cat track), we cast them with plaster. Unfortunately, we're having a difficult time getting all the dirt/clay off the plaster cast.

We've also learned about different trees through the seeds that they drop. We've gone harvesting in the woods for acorns, sweet gum balls, beech nuts and hickory nuts.

History and Geography:
We visited the local history museum to learn a little about the history in our part of the state.

We've read various books about:
1. Guy Fawkes
2. The Great Fire of London
3. Kings and Queens of England
4. Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement ("Martin's Big Words")

We have some books about the Constitution and Colonial times on order at the library but it's taking forever for it to be our turn. I had anticapted reading them by now.

Also, dh's citizenship test preparation was interesting for the kids. They learned about the physical qualities of the flag and the names of some of the original colonies. I had to quiz dh to help him prepare and they wanted me to quiz them too.

The election in November was also a great lesson in civics and government.

This sounds crazy but we're been watching, "The Amazing Race" as a family to learn a bit about world geography and culture. We've been using a map to see where the teams are on each leg of the race. Some examples of Amazing Race spin-off discussions have been:
1. The Mongols (who were they? who are some famous Mongols? how far did they extend their empire?)
2. St Basil's Cathedral (they really liked that building so we looked it up in another book and read a bit about it).
3. The difference between the Roman and Cyrillic alphabets. We used my Russian phrasebook to see examples of words written in both alphabets, in addition to trying our hand in saying some Russian words.

T and I attended a kids' library event about Sweden. Unfortunately, B was in a class and could not come.

1. Both kids have taken drama classes this fall.
2. B has taken two art classes at the museum: sculpture and print-making.
3. T takes dance lessons.
4. T and I saw a performance of "Poor Pluto", complete with a mini-performance by local symphony members.
5. We've visited the art museum.
6. We continue to listen to a wide variety of music, including jazz and opera.
7. We watched "Singin' in the Rain" together, in addition to scenes from "An American in Paris". T, in particular, loved these.

Language Arts:
1. B has started reading for pleasure. He's been able to read for quite a while but he just didn't. Now, he actually reads by himself, silently, and for fun. Some books that he's read on his own have been: "Star Wars the Clones Wars" (chapter book), "Chocolate Fever" by Robert Kimmel Smith, and several books in the "Secrets of Droon" series. He has recently started the Spiderwick Chronicles but I don't know how that is going.

2. B writes a lot and his spelling is improving.

3. B has been reading aloud to his little brother, which is nice for both of them.

4. We always have a family read-aloud each night, in which dh and I read to the kids. Some books that we've read to them have been: the first two Harry Potter books, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis, "Prince Caspian" by C.S. Lewis and "The Hobbit" by Tolkien. We are still reading the Hobbit.

I'm happy to say that this (#4) is my academic area, where I feel best. I don't just read to the kids. I stop and talk about what we're reading. I ask them what they think is going on, what they think might happen, why they think certain characters are feeling a certain way, etc. I frequently paraphrase after reading something and translate. We talk about what certain words mean. And we often act scenes out.

T is very good at coming up with theories and he remembers an insane amount of detail from earlier reading. He was the only one who remembered Elrond's moon runes in "the Hobbit" when the dwarves finally got to the mountain and looked for the secret door. He has a hysterical set of theories about how Professor Quirrel was somehow behind every trick in the second Harry Potter book, despite our insistence that Professor Quirrel was dead. Sometimes, he's quicker than B to surmise what's really going on. I have a feeling that T's strengths are going to be in language arts, whereas B excels in science. It would be funny if we had one kid like dh (science/math) and one kid like me (liberal arts).

Because Lewis and Tolkien use very rich language, we have spoken a great deal about what certain things mean. I generally read word-for-word and then I follow up with paraphrasing if the meaning cannot be guessed by my tone of voice, expression and actions. The other night, we talked about the words "desolate", "bleak" and "barren" in Tolkien's description of the land affected by the dragon. I like for them to guess and tell me what they think these words mean if they can but I will always give synonyms afterwards. We also talk about how words sound ("desolate" has such a nice sound). Some words require actual translation, such as Tolkien's usage of 'attercop' for 'spider" (atter comes from 'poison' and cop means 'head'). We have a good time with the language in the books.

I feel confident that both kids understand what's going on in the books and that they are developing critical thinking and reading comphrension skills as a result of how we read to them. And they're having a lot of fun in the process.

#5. T is continuing to teach himself to read. It appears as though he's going to follow dh, Ben and I in in being a spontaneous whole-word method reader. One day, while talking via the computer to my ILs in England, he read FIL's full name from the bottom of the interface. On another day, he "Little Bill" from the text-only guide on the TV, despite the fact that we rarely watch that channel or that show. And then yesterday, he read "Jack Frost" from the text-only on-screen TV guide (no audio), despite the fact that he has never heard of that movie before.

This is something that we need to focus on next semester. The kids use math in their everyday lives. They both seem to have a natural number sense. They like numbers. Sometimes, they ask me questions like "what are 3 3's?". They seem to play with numbers a lot. Using dice has been helpful for T, who announced at dinner one night, " I want 5 pieces, that's 4 and 1. And that's 3 and 2. And that's..." My SIL and BIL recently bought them a card game called "Dr Who Top Trumps", in which you battle with various character points; the kids love it and it requires math.

I do want to find ways of playing games involving multiplication, however, since they seem interested in that. I am working on some ideas for next semester to include more math in our lives.
I can't think of anything thing else, although I'm sure I've left stuff out. I desperately need to update more often.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I made a solo library trip the other day. It was nice to be by myself for a change because I could take my time browsing. I picked up some random books that I thought the kids would enjoy. I got several on magical creatures, although I still have not found exactly what I'm looking for. I want a magical creature encyclopedia, with realistic illustrations of dryads and centaurs and things like that. Ever since we've read Harry Potter and C.S. Lewis, there's been a real interest in magical creatures. Their interest started even before that, when I got out a huge hardback book on gnomes, a book I had loved in my own childhood. I'm still looking.

I got, "A Wrinkle in Time" for myself. I own most of the other books in the series but I never owned the original for some reason.

I also got another spider book for B. It was in the same series as the book on Wolf Spiders that he enjoyed. The book is about orb weavers. B and I both love spiders and we've both been taken with a particularly pretty spider that makes a large web on our deck, one that we've determined is an orb weaver. We used a field guide to narrow it down, but the field guide doesn't include all species of course.

Anyway, when I got home, I placed the stack on books on the bench near the door. The kids found them and got very excited, more excited than I expected. B spotted the spider one and yelled, "Orb Weavers!!" I have to read it to him at some point. And they really loved the books about magical creatures.

Early this morning, I did something that I very rarely let them do, which is I let them use the computer. Computer usage leads to zombie-like behavior, horrible fighting and a bad case of the "I'm bored's". So we try to refrain from giving them computer time at this point. But I found a really great spider website. The website allows you to narrow down your search by state or region. So now, we can finally see which spiders have been recorded in our state. B was thrilled.

I showed B a picture of an orb weaver that I thought was ours, but he thinks that the abdomen is a different color. We need to investigate that one a bit more. I explained how orb weavers belong to the "Araneidae" family, so he could click on the links with that family name in it to see only orb weavers. Later, he wanted to see wolf spiders. With the help of wikipedia, we found that they are in the Lycosidae family. Then, just to satisfy curiosity, we looked up jumping spiders, because we get a lot of those inside and we like those. Jumping spiders belong to the Salticidae family. I told him that I was sure that salta was "jump" in Spanish and that it would make sense since Spanish comes from Latin. Later, he wanted to know who the Pisauridae spiders were; we found that they are the family of nursery web spiders; we then read about nursery web spiders and B was really taken with how maternal they are.

Earlier, I read him the myth of Arachne. He has really enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology, ever since I recently told him some myths. I think it started when I explained why the cat is named, "Artemis". He's very keen to hear more Greek myths so that's something I have to find for him. It's hard to find Greek myths that don't have rape and things like that in them. Still, there are many that would be fine for him.