Thursday, July 28, 2011

MetroPark visit: kind of a bust.... or was it?

Yesterday we went to yet another MetroPark program. This one was all about compasses and orienteering. It was really interesting and very well put together, and the naturalist who led the class was great. The extent of my knowledge of compasses was that the needle points North, but I had never learned what to actually do with one.

First, the guide handed out compasses for everyone and taught us the basics of using them. Then we were off on a scavenger hunt. She'd give us the heading and we had to figure out which direction to go in and pick a fixed object to walk toward, and then she'd tell us how many paces to go and we all walked and counted out loud together. The scavenger hunt included several different canisters containing clues indicating what kind of animal lived in the particular area where we were. I thought Max would really like this but unfortunately he was not nearly as into it as I was. (BTW, this brings me to one selfish reason for why I have chosen homeschooling - I love to learn stuff & am totally psyched about learning things along with the kids.) I think it was a combination of factors - it was pretty hot out, and the pace of the class was just a bit slow for him. He quickly started to get bored and wander off to look at other things. I was doing okay with just accepting that this wasn't something he was ready for yet, and I figured at least he was out enjoying nature; he observed turtles, fish, a couple great blue herons, and was especially fascinated by all of the dragonflies. As the program was nearing the end, I was starting to get frustrated with him because he had wandered way ahead and was refusing to stay with the group and listen to the guide. So I turned in our compass and we left. I was disappointed, thinking that he hadn't gotten anything out of the class. On the way home, he looked up at the van's digital compass and said, "Hey Mom, we're going West." (!!!) He was right, the "W" was lit up. When we turned onto another road and changed direction, he said, "Oh look! Now we're going South!" Right again. My frustration vanished and I started laughing... I guess he did get a little bit out of it after all!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The things you do for your kids...

So tonight, as I was leaving work at my part-time job, I noticed a great big beautiful bright green grasshopper on the window of my van. I instantly thought, "Oh, Max would LOVE to see that guy!" and wracked my brain trying to think of something I could put it in if I caught it. I remembered I had a small plastic food container in my purse so I dug it out, dumped out Emmett's graham cracker snacks (sorry buddy) and got out to try and catch him. Unfortunately I failed. He jumped off and flew away into the dark. But for anyone wondering what the hell that crazy lady was chasing in Home Depot's parking lot at 11pm, that's the story.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bedtime chats are the greatest

We always have the most interesting whispered talks at bedtime. Last night's made me smile.

Max: Do you remember when I came out of your belly?
Me: Yes.
Max: I don't remember when I came out of your belly.
Me: It was my favorite day ever.
Max: When was it?
Me: February 27.
Max: Ohhh! *gears in head click* (he knows that's his birthday)
Max: Was it dark out?
Me: No. It was the middle of the afternoon. It was wintertime, but it was an unusually warm day and the sun was shining and there was a beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds.
Max: Where were we?
Me: At the hospital.
Max: First you were a little baby, then you grew up, then I was in your belly.
Me: Yep, that's right.
Max: And Dad was before you. So I think you came out of Dad's belly.
Me: *stifling laughter* Ah, no. Babies only come out of girls' bellies. Babies don't come out of boys' bellies.
Max: Oh. Then where did you come from?
Me: I came from Grandma's belly.
Max: You mean your mom?
Me: Yes. And Daddy came from Gommy's belly.
Max: Ohhhhhh!
(I am a little relieved that it hasn't yet occurred to him to ask how we all got in the bellies to begin with. I'm sure it won't be long though...)

And tonight as I was putting him in bed: "I like Daddy better. And I like you super better. And I like Grandma super better. And I like everybody a whole lot."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Announcing the decision

Just curious - how many of you out there have had this same conversation? This is sort of an idealized reenactment/compilation of conversations I've had with my mother-in-law (Disclaimer: I adore her. She just doesn't get the homeschooling thing... yet.) Well, except I wasn't this articulate in expressing myself in my conversations with her because I tend to get a little flustered when I really want to say something just right.

PS. This post was totally inspired by Free Homeschooling 101's Facebook page, where she posted a bunch of these xtranormal videos. I thought it would be fun to play around with and it really was!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You let him draw... where?!?

Yep, that's right - on the dining room windows!

Don't worry - they're window markers! I picked them up on impulse at Wal-Mart the other day because I have been trying to think of ways to encourage Max to spend more time on creative activities. They're a big hit! And they also do indeed wipe off very easily. I'm thinking this may also have an added benefit of motivating him to wash the windows for me...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Learning moments

A couple of learning moments from the past few days that I wanted to mention...

1. On Friday, as we were getting ready to go shopping with my mother-in-law and sister-in law, Max asked me, "Mama, how do you know where things are?" At first I wasn't sure what he was asking me, but then I understood that he wanted to know how I knew the way to the store. I told him that I have a map in my head, so I know which streets to take to get me where I want to go. I asked him if he'd like a map of our route and he said yes, so I quickly printed driving directions from Google Maps, and drew in a few landmarks (our house, Daddy's work, cousin Christy's house) so he could have a little more perspective of what he was looking at. He held the map and referred to it as we went, and whenever I stopped at a stop sign, I quickly reached back and pointed out where we were. Just a simple little thing to help him see the big world a little differently.

2. Today, we were at my mom's for dinner (YUMMY!) and while we were sitting out on the patio Max brought out a huge cupful of ice. He had apparently been playing with investigating the ice dispenser on the refrigerator. He asked me if the sun would melt the ice, and I got an idea to do a quick, simple experiment with him. I took two handfuls of ice of about equal size from his cup, and put one pile on the ground in the shade and one in the sun. I asked him which pile he thought would melt faster. He guessed the pile in the sun. He sat there on the patio and watched that ice melt with great focus. At one point my parents were trying to call him to the table and he replied "I am watching the ice melt!" in a tone that indicated that he was not going to budge until it was gone. And he was correct - the pile in the sun did melt a bit more quickly than the pile in the shade. I then showed him how the line between the sun and shade, which was formed by the shadow of a fence, had moved since I put the ice on the ground. The edge of the shadow had been centered between the two piles, but by the time the ice had melted the shadow had almost reached the "sun" pile. I asked him why the shadow moved. He said, "I don't know," and I decided not to give him an answer right away, and let him think about it. A short while later he noticed that the sun was going down, and then we had a conversation about how the movement of the sun caused the shadows to move too.

Life is a better classroom than any classroom.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Great article

I've heard about Khan Academy all over the place, and am already planning to incorporate it into our homeschooling when the boys are older. I just had to share this excellent article from Wired magazine: How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education. It's kind of long but totally worth the read. If you haven't heard of it, Khan Academy is a website full of free video lectures, many of which are about math, but there are other topics as well. It all began when Salman Khan started making videos to help tutor his young cousin who lived across the country, and over time it turned into the huge thing it is today. Even Bill Gates was using it for his own children! The article is about how a few school systems are now using his program and are being blown away by the results. Towards the end is an interesting bit about how Khan doesn't want to work too closely with them because "he doesn’t want the school system and its byzantine standards determining what he does with his site". He insists he isn't trying to be a reformer of the school system, he just wants to help kids learn. The following paragraph really stood out to me:

"Even if Khan is truly liberating students to advance at their own pace, it’s not clear that the schools will be able to cope. The very concept of grade levels implies groups of students moving along together at an even pace. So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics—but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”"
That's right... I have to say that again. They wondered if it could be modified "to stop students from becoming this advanced." Students becoming too advanced? Oh the HORROR! Only public school administrators would see that as a problem.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Random stuff we've been up to lately

I've been meaning to write about this stuff but haven't gotten around to it, so here's a quick recap of the last couple weeks...

Emmett has inherited my love of books. Here he is reading with Grandma.

"Shoosh!" (Shoes)

Max is totally into bugs lately - he notices them everywhere. Here's a dragonfly we spotted in the backyard.

We went to a program at our local MetroPark about birds. The naturalist brought lots of specimens of bird parts, nests, eggs, etc., then handed out binoculars for all the kids to borrow and we all set off on a hike. We actually didn't spot many birds because we were with a large, fast-moving group of loud children. However, at the end of the walk we did spot this guy.

The naturalist told us this was a luna moth, but when we looked it up at home we discovered that it's actually a polyphemus moth.

Emmett was worn out from all that walking so he went to sleep.

Max was still full of energy though!

This is from the Fourth of July. Max is enjoying some bang snaps that Daddy brought as a surprise for him, and his buddy (our good friend's son) Paul kindly offered to give me a break and wear Emmett on his back for awhile.

Here's me & Em waiting for the sun to go down so the fireworks can start. He loved it - he thought it was so cool to be awake and outside so late. When the fireworks were happening, he was happily yelling "BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM!"

We went to another MetroPark program - this one was about bugs. After a quick talk about different kinds of bugs/insects/spiders and their shapes & sizes, foods, habitats, etc., the kids were given nets and sent hunting.

Quick shot over my shoulder of Em enjoying the ride.

Here's Max traipsing through the tall grass, looking for critters. We actually didn't find much - once again, a large, fast-moving group of loud children not necessarily conducive to a nature hunt. The one interesting thing we found was a cocoon of some kind. I thought we'd have had better luck by staying in a smaller area and looking more closely around us. It was still a good program though.

Mama got a new tattoo... :)

We invented a fun new game a few days ago...

And our blueberries are in season now. We have four huge blueberry bushes that were on the property when we bought this place. We don't do a thing to them, and they produce insane amounts of super delicious juicy, sweet, and tart berries. Max helped me make my annual happy birthday batch of blueberry muffins for my BFF, and here is Emmett aka Quality Control performing a taste test.

The muffins passed the test - Em couldn't get enough of them! I caught him stuffing his face after pulling them down off the counter when I wasn't looking, so I had to hide the survivors out of his sight.

Ahhhhh summertime!

Book Review: Misquoting Jesus

I recently finished Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman.

It's a fascinating and eye-opening account of the history of the New Testament and the study of the oldest, "nearest-to-original" copies of biblical manuscripts in existence. The big news (which isn't really news) is that we don't have any original copies of the Bible. Or copies of the original. Or copies of copies of copies of copies of the original... and so on... you get the idea. The very oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are from hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, and many of those are only fragments. Also, obviously, this was all done way before the printing press came along, so they were copied by hand. Ehrman describes how in the early days of Christianity, there weren't even professional scribes copying the books of the bible, just whoever happened to be the most literate people in a given congregation. So handwritten copies, by non-professionals, over hundreds of years = less than perfect results. Ehrman explains the detective work of how scholars study ancient manuscripts, looking for differences and then trying to determine which copy is the original, and also how and why the changes were made. Some instances were just mistakes, some were where the scribe thought there had been a mistake and tried to correct it, and some were where the text was changed on purpose to support the writer's and/or church's beliefs. It may sound kind of dry, but it was really quite interesting and educational, and it kept me turning the pages. I highly recommend it, whether you're religious or not. (Disclaimer: I am not religious, although I am interested in learning about all different religions, and plan to study them all with the boys in the process of homeschooling.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Product Reviews: Wasp Wand and Waspinator

I just wanted to quickly mention two products that have made my life a bit easier. They are:
the Wasp Wand


the Waspinator.

We have always had a terrible problem with wasps around the back of our house, which is also where the kids' play area is located. Unfortunately I inherited my Mom's paralyzing phobia of stinging/buzzing/EVIL insects, and I would always be a nervous wreck when the kids were playing outside because the darn things were everywhere. Well, no longer, thanks to this super-duo of products! The Wasp Wand is basically an extension pole that holds a can of wasp spray, so that you can safely and thoroughly reach high places where they live. ( Yes I know this is not a very "green" method but I don't care. When it comes to wasps, I am the opposite of green - I guess that makes me "red", according to the color wheel. I'm totally okay with that.) So my dear husband sprayed the heck out of the eaves all around the house and finally managed to eradicate them. BUT, they always end up coming back after a while. This is where the second product comes in. The Waspinator basically works like a scarecrow, except for wasps. It's just a fake wasp nest. Apparently, they are very territorial creatures, and if they see an established nest they will stay away. I have had it up for several weeks now, and I must say I'm kind of blown away with the results. I can now relax and enjoy my backyard and let the children play without following them around looking out for wasps and nests like a paranoid freak.

Here's my Waspinator hanging from the awning above the back door. (Hubby's garden is visible between the house & the swingset.) Thank you kind people in the wasp control industry!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Conversations about death with a 5-year-old

I am slightly jealous of religious people today. This morning, I had a conversation with Max about death, our second ever on this topic, and I can see where it is so much easier to have a ready-made fairytale story to explain things to kids. When my grandmother died in April, I chose not to bring it up to Max because he didn't know her well and I felt it would confuse and/or scare him... I decided it would be better to wait until he asked questions instead. A couple weeks after she died, out of the blue he asked to go see her, which was unusual because he had never asked that before. I'm sure he must have picked up on bits of the adult conversations going on around him. Here's how it went:

Max: Hey, we need to go see Great Grandma!
Me: We can't, honey.
Max: Why?
Me: Well, she died.
Max: She DIED?
Me: Yes.
Max: Why?
Me: Well, she was an old lady and she had lived a long, long time, and it was just her time to go.
Max: Why?
Me: Well, everybody dies, eventually.
Max: I don't want Gommy to die!
Me: Me neither! Hopefully that won't happen for a long time.
Max: Are you gonna die?
Me: Yes, someday.
Max: I don't want you to die!
Me: Me neither!
Max: Am I gonna die?
Me: Yes, someday. But you don't need to worry about it right now. It won't be until after you're an old man, after you get married and have babies, and those babies grow up and have your grandbabies.
Max: Oh, okay.

And that was pretty much it. Until this morning, about three months later, when he started asking questions again. Besides the subject matter, it's the out-of-the-blue-ness that throws me off - I was barely awake yet and suddenly we're having this heavy discussion.

Max: Remember when Great Grandma died? When is she coming back?
Me: She's not, honey. When you're dead, you're dead. You don't get to come back.
Max: Really?
Me: Yes.
Max: Am I gonna die?
Me: Yes, someday.
Max: I don't wanna die!
Me: I don't want you to either.
Max: When will it happen?
Me: Nobody knows. Hopefully it won't be for a very, very long time. Like when you're an old, old man.
Max: Will it hurt?
Me: I don't know. Nobody knows what it will be like for them.
Max: And you're gonna die?
Me: Yes, someday. Hopefully not for a long time.
Max: And Dad? And Emmett?
Me: Yep.
Max: This is making me really sad.
Me: I know. It's not something I like to think about. It's kinda scary, huh?
Max: Yeah.
Me: Well it's scary for grownups too. But you don't have to be worried about it because it's not going to happen for a long, long time, okay?
Max: Okay.

But today he did keep worrying about it, almost to the point of tears. He kept asking me what happens and I kept telling him no one knows. Finally, I did use "Lots of people think you go to a place called Heaven when you die, where you get to be with all your friends and family who died before you. But nobody really knows for sure." Had he asked me if I believed that, I would have answered truthfully that while I think it's a nice idea, I don't really believe it, no. I felt a little dirty for bringing it up, but I thought it might ease his worries a bit, although I don't think it really did. When he's older, we can have more in-depth and sophisticated conversations about things. But for now I'm trying to find balance between being open and honest yet keeping him from being afraid and anxious. Tricky stuff.

How do YOU talk to your kids about death? I'm curious how others handle it...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Welcome to my library

Inspired by a post I saw on another blog that I follow, I thought I'd share my library. Here's the main section. This is one wall of my living room - my husband and his friend built these shelves for me a few years ago based on a sketch I drew. They are my very favorite thing about my house.

I estimate that I've read about 20% of these. I only keep books that I a) love, or b) haven't read yet. If I've read a book and it was just okay, I purge it. (Confession: I do have a tendency to acquire books at a faster rate than I can read them!) While I originally purchased most of these for my own pleasure or curiosity, I plan to use them in homeschooling too - I want to use real books vs. textbooks as much as possible.

This side is mostly fiction. The top shelf contains my all-time favorite books. The four shelves below that are all fiction books, in alphabetical order by author. The very bottom shelf, behind the recliner, is full of board games. The shelf above the window, which you can't see too well, is an old, not-quite-complete set of Mark Twain's works.

This side is mostly nonfiction, organized by topic. Shelves on the left side, from top to bottom:
1. Antique/Collectible
2. Astronomy/Physics
3. Science/Math/Travel
4. Biography/Memoir
5. Biography/Memoir/History
6. The large shelf on the bottom is all Usborne Books (children's books).

Shelves on the right side, from top to bottom:
1. American History/Political
2. Religion/Philosophy
3. Science Fiction
4. Various paperbacks, both adult and children's
5. Humor/Miscellaneous
6. Finally on the bottom are larger books from all categories that don't fit in the smaller shelves.

These two shelves are in our den/office/guest room/homeschool room. They contain homeschooling materials and also photos and family history stuff. I love these shelves - they belonged to my grandmother.

Here's a closeup of some of my homeschool stuff.

And last but not least, here is the shelf in the kids' room.

Yeah, we have too many darn books... but that is a happy problem! I figure it's better than having 3,000 pairs of shoes, right?