Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jim Henson Puppet-Making Tutorial

Just had to share this nugget of awesomeness. I see some puppet-making in our near future.

via The Kid Should See This

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear religious parents who shun your Atheist children: you're doing it wrong.

My mom and I have had lots of discussions about religion and spirituality. She knows that I am an Atheist and why; we respect each others' points of view, and simply agree to disagree on the subject of God. She started a blog a while back but never writes on it, and I was teasing her about it the other day. She said that she just doesn't have anything to say (Which is a LIE! She always has lots to say and she's totally robbing the world by not posting it on her blog!) so I jokingly suggested she write about "the crushing disappointment of having an Atheist daughter" she did. You can read what she wrote here. To any religious parents out there: THIS is how you are supposed to treat your non-religious children - as if they were, you know, people you actually love and respect. I have heard plenty of stories of people whose parents coldly shun/disown them, or conversely - launch a constant barrage of impassioned attempts to win them "back into the fold." These people cannot bear the horror of having their children rationally thinking for themselves, and are willing to put their passion for religion above their passion for their own children. Shame on them. (And shame on any religious group or authority that encourages that kind of behavior.) I mean, is that *really* what Jesus would do?

So I just wanted to say: Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Piggy bank contents = math manipulatives

One day last week, Monkeyman wanted to know how much money was in his piggy bank. I suggested he count the contents himself and find out. First, we dumped the coins on the table and I had him sort them by type:

Then I had him put them into piles of 4 for the quarters and piles of 10 for dimes and pennies (for some reason there weren't very many nickels in there):

Finally, I showed him how to count out the right amount to put into rolls - for the quarters and dimes we counted by ones (each pile was one dollar), and for the pennies we counted by tens (ten-twenty-thirty-forty-fifty cents). A simple, hands-on, real-life math lesson - boom, done. He was really interested and focused on the "lesson" because he truly cared about the results. (Burning question: Is there enough for a new video game? Answer: Yes!) Oh, and I guess we fit a homeschooling stereotype that day: doing school in our jammies, as you can see Monkeyman in his Elmo pjs. Pretty sure I was still in my jammies too. (And yes I know I use parentheses too much.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

St. Helena III - Canal Boat, Canal Fulton, Ohio

We went on a really cool field trip with our new homeschool group - a canal boat ride on the St. Helena III, in Canal Fulton, Ohio.

Fueling up. The man in the straw hat was the captain/ tour guide. He told us lots of interesting stuff about Ohio and local history as we cruised.

Here is the boat's "two-horsepower engine" pulling it along.

There were over 80 people in our group and we were divided in half and took turns between the boat ride & museum visit. So there were around 40 people on the boat at a time.

Here's a view of the horses pulling us along.

Monkeyman enjoyed watching out the window.

Here is Lock 4, the fourth lock south of Akron. This is where we turned around and headed back. (The boat ride was about an hour long altogether.) You can see that the nearer gate is closed and the far gate is open, and the water beyond is at a lower level. The brick building beside it was the lock tender's house.

The St. Helena II, the current boat's predecessor, is parked nearby and the kids were able to climb up on it and play. Here's Monkeyman standing beside the rudder.

I think the guy with the giant shovel really makes the photo, LOL.

Refueling for the next trip.

The captain/tour guide did a really nice job of sharing information and making the ride interesting. He explained that before railways and cars and roads, canal boats were the primary means of transporting goods. He told us what life was like on a canal boat - how the captain and his (probably large) family lived in the tiny cabin at the end, and that the area where we were sitting would have been filled with cargo. He told about how each child in the family would be given jobs to do on the boat, and how family basically doubled as crew. He said that children as young as five (using Monkey as an example), paired with a knowledgeable older sibling, would be learning how to drive the horses along the side of the canal. He also brought out some examples of the kinds of toys children would have played with back then and let the kids try them out.

As we drifted, he pointed out many sights along the way, including a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and told about how captains who were supportive to the cause would let slaves hide on the boat and then they'd stop or slow down at that house so the slaves could jump off there. They'd be given food and a place to stay and would then take another boat for the next leg up to Cleveland. He did a great job of painting a picture of the time and the local area; how the town sprung up as a direct result of the canal and what a booming place it once was.

After our boat ride, we saw a short film and then toured the small museum. It was interesting but didn't really hold Monkeyman's attention, which I kind of expected. After that, we had a quick picnic lunch and he played on the nearby playground with some of the other kids. All in all, a very good outing!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gorge MetroPark, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Over the weekend, we went hiking at the Gorge MetroPark in Cuyahoga Falls. We're working on completing the Fall Hiking Spree - if you hike at 8 different MetroParks from September 1st through November 30th, you receive a walking stick (for first-timers, which we are) and a badge to attach to your stick. We now have 2 trails down, 6 to go. The Gorge is gorgeous! On one side of the path are fascinating and beautiful rock formations rising high above you, and on the other side is a very steep drop down to the Cuyahoga river. I was definitely a bit nervous as we walked, because even though we kept telling Monkeyman to stay on the inside, close to the rocks and away from the dropoff side, he kept forgetting and drifting closer to the dropoff. After reprimanding him quite a few times, it started to sink in and he did better. As we walked, we examined and discussed the distinct layers in the rocks, the smaller pebble-sized rocks embedded in the large boulders and how they got stuck there, the trees and plants growing out of the rocks, and how water works its way into tiny crevices between rocks, then freezes and causes giant chunks to break off. I was kicking myself for not bringing the good camera with me because I was feeling lazy and didn't want to be encumbered with it, but I couldn't resist snapping a few pics with my cell phone as we walked.

Oh, and towards the end of the hike, Bug kicked off one of his shoes from his perch in the backpack carrier, and it went flying down the hill/cliff. Bye-bye shoe! Oh well - it was a sandal and summer's nearly over anyway.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kalahari Water Park "NOT-Back-To-School" Gathering

On Wednesday and Thursday, we attended a "Not-Back-To-School" gathering at Kalahari Water Park in Sandusky, Ohio, consisting of homeschoolers from various groups around northeast Ohio - around 120 people total. We got an amazing group rate, plus the park was nearly deserted because all the other kids are in school now. We had never been before but had heard from friends that the place is a blast - and they were right! At first, both kids were a bit overwhelmed by the place and not too sure about it. So we started off in the toddler area, and gradually the kids warmed up to it and started having fun. The toddler area is covered in about a foot of water and has various small waterslides, climbing structures, and fountains. I wasn't sure how much Monkeyman was going to enjoy the water park experience, because he had a fear of having water splashed in his face, and of going under water even for a second. He started out on the little slides...

(Disclaimer: I purchased a disposable waterproof camera and most of the pics didn't turn out very well. I was kind of disappointed with the quality of the pics overall but there are a few decent ones.)

And then Monkeyman & I went over to the bigger kids' area while Daddy stayed with Bug, and he began warming up to that. The water is a bit deeper and the climbing structure is more elaborate with spray guns you can aim, buckets of water to fill until they tip & dump out, and a huge, gushing waterfall pouring down over the whole thing every 10 minutes or so. There are two moderate-sized tall, twisty waterslides there too. We watched other kids slide for a while, and he was still not too sure about it. I asked Monkey if he wanted to see me go down first, to show him that it's not too scary and he said yes. I told him to wait right there, and I went up and slid down. When I got to the bottom, I looked around and he was nowhere in sight. And then - my favorite moment of our whole trip: I turned around and there he was coming out of the chute at the bottom of the waterslide! He went all by himself! He immediately conquered his fear of getting water in his face, and really began having a blast. He went down those two slides many, many, many times. Unfortunately this is the best pic of him at the bottom of the slide...

After these slides, we tried some even bigger ones. Monkey was allowed on the ones for kids 42" and up, but he wasn't tall enough for the ones for kids 48" and up. I'm sure there is some reasoning for which rides are classified for which height requirements, but it didn't make a lot of sense to us. Some of the ones that didn't look too intense were restricted to bigger kids, and some of the ones that were okay for littler kids were pretty hairy in my opinion. We went down one that he was permitted on, and it was SCARY! Okay, maybe I'm a big chicken, but I was just not expecting the entire tube to be pitch black inside - I mistakenly assumed that the tubes would be translucent and let some light through. It was a creepy, disorienting, claustrophobic experience. Monkey & I started off at the same time on two slides that were side-by-side, and as I was going down, I was thinking yelling,


I think in reality it was only a little scary, but knowing that Monkeyman was experiencing the same thing at that moment and imagining how terrified he must be, multiplied my fear exponentially. As soon as I got to the bottom I leapt out of the chute and ran over to where he came out, expecting him to be in full freakout mode. He simply looked a bit shaken and calmly said, "Um, I don't wanna do that again," so we went back to the less-terrifying moderate-sized slides and pretty much remained there for the duration. I tried talking him into going on a few other things with me but was unsuccessful.

Here we are at the wave pool. This pic is very special for two reasons: 1. all four of us are in it which is quite rare, and 2. it is a photo of me in a bathing suit that I don't hate. Priceless!

Here is Bug in a ridiculously adorable wetsuit, a hand-me-down gift from a fellow homeschooler.

My little fishie quite enjoyed playing in the wave pool. As he has not yet been to the ocean, I was happy to see him experience this next-best-thing.

Overall, a really fun trip, although we ended up cutting it a bit short on the second day because Bug had picked up a little stomach bug. While we were there, I did see some familiar faces and was able to introduce Shane to some of the people I know, and we met a few new people too. As usual though, we were too busy watching/chasing the kids to be able to socialize very much. But the kids did get to play with lots of other kids and had fun, and that's what mattered most to me. There is so much we didn't get to: the game room, bowling alley, miniature golf course, indoor (dry) playground... but there's another homeschool gathering there in February and we are planning on going again - can't wait!

Oh, and here are the kids on the way home. Proof that the trip was a success!:

Friday, September 9, 2011

African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton, OH

This week, we had a mini family vacation. I will write about the "Not Back To School" homeschoolers gathering at the Kalahari Water Park & Resort when I get my pictures back - I got a disposable waterproof camera so I have to go old school and wait for them to be developed. But, while we were up there we stopped by the African Safari Wildlife Park, where you drive through and can feed the animals as they come up to your car. Some are in enclosures, but there are many that run around loose and approach your vehicle freely - and they are not shy! They will stick their heads right in and investigate to see if you have food. It was pretty fun, but I don't think it would have been worth the nearly 2-hour drive just to see it alone. It was smaller and not quite as nice as I expected. The kids really enjoyed seeing the animals up close though - well, at least Bug did, as you'll see below. Monkeyman was a bit nervous about it, and when the first animal stuck its head in, he said, "Oh this is not good." (You can click on the images to see them larger.)

I have kind of a thing for giraffes - I must say they were my favorite. They are so beautiful and graceful and unusual.

And here is Bug's reaction to the animals. He was giggling and yelling "MOO!" at every animal that approached our car, the whole way through the park.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Update + random product reviews

Well I haven't had much to say in the past week or two (or much time to write), but surely this picture is worth at least a thousand words:

Bug has been saying new words like crazy lately - like a dozen a day some days. He has also started showing interest in the potty and will occasionally demand "SIT POTTY!" although he hasn't actually done anything there yet, as far as I can tell. BTW, shown in this picture is my favorite product at Home Depot (although I couldn't find it on their site): it's a regular toilet seat with a potty seat built in, that is nested in the lid and held closed by a magnet. We tried several potty seats and potty chairs with Monkeyman but this was the best solution. It doesn't take up any extra space in the bathroom and it looks like a regular grown-up seat so the little ones feel secure but also feel like "big kids" too.

In the past two weeks, we've:
  • gone hiking at three different parks
  • started working on a bit of memorization: the Pledge of Allegiance, and our address & phone number. I have them taped on the dining room wall and we recite every morning. When he knows them by heart, I'll put something else up there for him to work on memorizing.
  • started working on some basic addition and skip counting
  • studied earthquakes and hurricanes (aka current events)
  • done LOTS of reading

  • tried out some new toys - Wedgits blocks. At first I was disappointed because I didn't realize I'd ordered the "mini" size but they are great fun to play with & can be stacked in all kinds of interesting ways. Monkeyman is diggin em!)

  • built a fun robot costume out of boxes just for kicks

  • investigated all kinds of things with this:
...and may I say that no homeschool home should be without one! It's a pocket microscope, very simple and low-tech. You can find a similar, but better, one at, or other online retailers. (Note: the one pictured is actually mine from when I was a kid. I had ordered one from Amazon a long time ago because I couldn't find my old one, and then of course, I found it. The old one works MUCH better than the new one - the image is always blurred with the new one. Not sure if it was just a fluke or if they're all junk, but just in case, DON'T get this one from Anyways, it's not super powerful, but 30x is enough to give you a very different perspective on things. We have examined clothes, carpet, the countertop, newspapers, money, the computer screen, skin, hair, fingernails... and tonight we compared Monkeyman's temporary tattoo with Shane's and my real ones. It was especially interesting to compare Shane's and mine because his is over a decade old and mine are just a few months old. Mine definitely looked a bit sharper.

Ooh, and tonight at bedtime, Monkeyman surprised me by reciting the names of the planets, which he picked up from this amazing CD, which I reviewed recently. We have been listening to it nonstop every time we go somewhere in the car.

I just turned the calendar to September today and it is covered in writing. We have lots of interesting things going on this month: an overnight trip to Kalahari (water park), our annual trip to the county fair, two homeschool group field trips (a canal boat ride and a visit to a pumpkin patch), and two or three other informal homeschool gatherings, as well as a couple of family gatherings as well. Fun stuff ahead!