Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I've been lazy!

And now there's so much to catch up that I'm not sure where to begin!

Everything is going swimmingly. I'm particularly pleased lately to see that reading has begun to really "click" for Isabel - she's had the basics down and was doing well, but it was a one-step-forward-two-steps-back sort of process in terms of her motivation and desire. The main obstacle was one of blending phonemes - Belle tended to over-enunciate each sound and create sound patterns with them, rather than blending to create words. I kept the pressure off, stopping all phonics work and just asking her to do a small amount of reading a couple times a week. Sure enough, Belle started picking up books on her own again after a short time and the blending has started happening all on its own. There's still a good amount of sounding-out, but she's now going through her early readers with something approaching fluency.

I also finally figured out the trick to telling 'b' from 'd'! Isabel has a small freckle on her right hand that we're now calling her "bee sting mark" - her right hand is her "bee sting hand" and her left hand is her "d" hand. I told her, the line of the letter is pointing to your belly button. Now look to see what side the loop is on. If it's on the side of the bee sting hand, it's a b. And vice versa. Yay! So glad to have figured out a way to cope with those tricky lowercase letters!

The week of the election we did a lot of neat election activities. We talked a lot about government. Isabel did a very cute thing where she listed the issues she feels are most important for the government to deal with. She wrote things like "rabbits", "kites" and "water". They seem nonsensical at first, but when you ask her about them, she explains that "rabbits" refers to protecting farmers' vegetables from rabbits and other animals, "kites" is removing kites and other "stuff" from trees and wires, and "water" is making sure everyone has enough clean water to drink. Pretty good issues, if you ask me.

We're having loads of fun with the abacus. Each row of beads counts to ten. It's simple but brilliant, as I can see Isabel really "getting" the relationship between numbers. A few days ago she said to me, in wonderment, "You know, Mom, no matter how many beads are on this side and how many beads are on that side, it's always TEN! There can be more there or more there and even some in the middle, but it's always TEN!" She was equally enthralled with the discovery that the sum of two numbers is always a bigger number.

Handwriting is coming along beautifully.

We started a new music class this week, which Belle loves. Denise is another homeschooling mom who teaches private music lessons. There's about a half-dozen kids in the class and it's a fabulous program.

I'm in the process of trying to get better organized. I have decided that the key to my organizational success is a PDA - I like the Palm TX (expensive, though!). I've started tracking everything on a calendar on the computer and, boy, are we busy. I only get overwhelmed when I stop to think about it!

Friday, October 31, 2008

A ridiculous number of Halloween pictures

We painted pumpkins:

And ourselves:

And sometimes threw things on the floor:

Before trying to escape:

Isabel says green macaroni and cheese does NOT taste the same:

But Aidan didn't seem to mind:

Kiki and a hockey player, ready to trick-or-treat:

And don't forget about Jiji the cat:

"Mom, I have the perfect costume for you!" she says:

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Mom, I'm really worried."

So says Isabel. She's worried because if "Garack Obama" wins the Presidency, then John McCain will be sad. One of those moments when my child inspires me to be more forgiving than I would be if left to my own devices.

We've been talking a lot about the election this week - what the President does, what a government is, how elections work. We've compared governing a country and "governing" a family (ahem, Mommy would win if we held an election for President of our family) and created mock platforms for pretend elections. We've been tracking CNN's Poll of Polls map and seeing how the votes are predicted to fall. We explored the two-party system (no sense introducing unnecessary confusion, so I refrained from talking about how nice it would be to have more than two major parties...) and the basic differences between liberal and conservative political philosophies, in terms of taxes and government programs. War is not something with which the children are familiar and I plan to keep it that way for a good, long while, so for now that's it.

In our discussion of differing philosophies I emphasized the importance of tolerance and understanding and teamwork. Isabel, no real surprise, appears to be a liberal. It is possible that the Obama sign in our yard, Obama sticker on our car, Obama pin on my purse and recent political discussions have influenced her. I expect that when she hits a rebellious phase she'll declare herself a conservative and hole up in her bedroom with a pinup of Dick Cheney.

We hit two homeschool co-ops this week, one on Monday and one of Wednesday. The one Monday was really more of a simple get-together playtime. Wednesday was an art and music program, which both kids loved. Isabel liked the singing and even Aidan got in on it, doing some of the motions. Aidan also threw a dozen animal crackers in the garbage before I realized that he was not, in fact, eating them that quickly. At these co-ops, I get a huge kick out of watching the big kids interact with the little kids. They are consistently kind, gentle and patient with the littles. I've often heard it said that a benefit of homeschooling is that the children learn to interact with people of all ages, not only with same-age peers. I definitely see this to be true in our homeschool association. Even when the teenagers are being, well, teenagerey, they're still genuinely good kids who have awesome relationships with their parents and a real respect for the people around them.

Monday was also Irish dancing. The kids had a Halloween party in class. Aidan wants to Irish dance. When he turns 3, we'll have to get him in. He puts his hands behind his back and prances around. It's very cute.

Tonight we went on a tour of a local apple farm with the Girl Scouts. Isabel had a great time. She didn't look at us once the whole time - she was having too much fun with her friends to see what Mom and Dad and Aidan were up to. Since the tour was only an hour and it's 20 minutes from home, we stuck around while they had Scout-y fun. Bought apples and candy. Aidan LOVES apples. Loves them. I bought a bushel and reserved one, washed it in the bathroom, and gave it to him to eat. He ran around with it for 20 minutes and then tripped tragically, the apple rolling from his hands and across the filthy farm floor. He watched it go with huge, mournful eyes and immediately began to wail. When I tossed it out (too dirty to wash off!), he marched his self right back into the store and to the apple table, where he pointed at the apples and signed "more". Still crying. In case anyone is wondering, a single apple costs 23 cents. And if you buy your child that single apple, he will have approximately two bites before he decides he's "Ah Dah" (all done) with a casual shrug, as though he doesn't understand why you bothered buying it in the first place.

More reading and writing and math here. Isabel wants to do "hard math" now. Funny, because she doesn't seem to want to learn the "easy math".

Now, a couple photos:

Aidan doing the motions to a song.

I have some cute photos of Isabel singing and doing the motions as well, but they also prominently show the other kids. I'm not sure if that's okay or not, posting full face shots of other peoples' kids online. Oh well.

One last one of Aidan, when it was time to leave.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stuff we've done

Music has been a primary focus of the last few days. I've been talking to Isabel about storytelling through music, using a (greatly abridged) ad hoc adaptation of Les Miserables. We listen for different instruments, keep the beat and listen to how the music enhances the story by repeating musical themes and using happy and sad songs. Isabel is very distressed that people were mean to Cosette and made her clean. I am so glad I didn't tell her that half the cast dies. They all just "go away" mysteriously. We've also been playing with our piano, guitars and harmonica (that one's for Aidan), playing notes and hearing how they sound the same and different on a guitar and piano, even though they're both string instruments.

More about reptiles and amphibians, too. Isabel has suddenly gotten interested in what different animals and bugs eat, and reproduction. So we've been doing a lot of research online and in our books, learning what clams, worms, spiders, snakes and other creatures eat. We looked up how ants and crabs reproduce, both of which gave me the opportunity to talk about metamorphosis, tying in very nicely with the trip to the pet store I have planned in a couple days to look at tadpoles and frogs, and a metamorphosis project.

Reading. Isabel has read two early readers to me over the last two days. Heaven help me, these books are boring. She's getting it, though. I'm surprised by the ease with which she remembers phonics rules. Exclamation points are surprisingly difficult, though. Isabel thinks they click. Why, I have no idea.

We covered three Spanish lessons this week, too. I really need to get us into a Spanish class. There's one available, I just don't know that we have the time. My Spanish is painfully rusty. So far, all the simple things Hooked on Spanish covers, I know.

With the upcoming election, we've been discussing government in very simplistic terms, relating government rule to Mommy and Daddy rule in our house. (Confession: Isabel knows the Presidential candidates as "Garack Obama" and "That Man Mommy Says Shouldn't Smile Any More".) I think we're going to hold mock elections sometime in the next couple of weeks, most likely with dolls.

Tomorrow is homeschool co-op day. That will be fun.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reptiles, amphibians, a nature walk and other stuff, too.

Let's see. We've covered quite a lot so far this week.

Monday we did an "All About Me" project. Isabel drew a picture of herself and wrote her name, age and what she likes to do on the bottom. In all honesty, she lost interest in that project pretty fast. She also gave herself red hair because she wishes she had red hair like the little mermaid.

Yesterday was more fun - we're learning about retiles and amphibians. We read a few of the poems out of Eric Carle's "Animals Animals" (the ones having to do with reptiles and amphibians) and then looked at pictures of real reptiles and amphibians. We talked about how they are the same and how they are different, and how to tell the difference between them. Then I printed a bunch of pictures of various reptiles and amphibians, and Isabel cut them out and glued them onto a page divided in half - one side for reptiles and the other for amphibians. Isabel loves cutting and gluing, so that was a good time.

Today, we met up with the homeschool co-op at a local park and took a nature walk. That was really fun! Isabel collected leaves that I'm going to iron between wax paper later, and we watched squirrels, birds and chipmunks. After the nature walk, the kids all played while the moms visited.

Now, pics:

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's Fire Safety Month

I dubbed yesterday, "Safety Thursday!" Yes, the exclamation point is necessary. We took the day off from reading and writing and the abacus, and spent our time talking about fire safety and how to respond to other emergencies. It was all very exciting.
Isabel army-crawled through the house, slid down the stairs on her bottom, tore her quilt from her bed to jam against the base of her door, learned how to climb over the gate that blocks the kitchen, got to open the front and side doors by herself and run to our "meeting spot!", and practiced calling 9-1-1 (on the dead phone). Oh, and she learned to bring Rosie into the playroom and shut the door as she's speaking to the 9-1-1 operator, so that first responders will actually come into the house. Something about some people being intimidated by a pit bull, blah, blah, blah.

We also learned all about fire; that fire needs oxygen and how depriving it of oxygen makes it go out. We lit candles and put them out, and observed to learn which way smoke travels. Isabel spent all last night and most of today excitedly talking about her newfound emergency knowledge and said to me, at one point this afternoon, "Thanks for teaching me what to do in a 'mergency, Mom!" You're welcome, dear.

Nick worked Sunday, so today was actually our sixth day this week and we didn't do much in the way of schoolwork. While Aidan napped and I cooked noodles for lunch, Isabel came into the kitchen with her princess notepad and a pen, and practiced sounding out and writing words. And she graffitied her name all over my dry erase board, again. Our last name is fairly long, so she's pretty proud to know her whole name. I do wish she'd stop writing it all over my dry erase board, though.

Today was mostly a play day. The kids have been having a lot of fun with the dress up box lately. Rather, Isabel has been having fun dressing up Aidan lately. So, pictures of dress up fun...

Butterfly wings are fun. Isabel flutters her arms and flits about in her wings. Aidan puts his arms out in front of him like Superman and makes airplane noises while he flies:

And, sometimes, dressing up is just learning that you can put your brother in one of your outgrown leotards and knot a ribbon belt around his waist:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Two Wimmins"

Since Blogger is kind enough to date my posts for me, I've decided it's redundant for me to continue titleing with dates.

Today we met up with the homeschool co-op. Someone scored a huge load of unpainted ceramics off of Freecycle, so everyone brought supplies and the kids painted ceramics. Fun, fun, fun. Isabel did bookends of children in old-fashioned bonnets ("two wimmins," she calls them, not unlike the way my grandpa would say it) and some sort of little planter. She's not so much for the arts, so all three items are a solid, muddy red-brown. She loves them, though, and that's what counts. Or something like that.

Aidan had a blast. He thinks he's a big boy, and so trailed after the real big boys (the young-teen big boys) the entire time. They were playing ping-pong and gave Aidan his own ball and paddle to play with. He felt pretty important, outfitted to play, and made the rounds with his ball and paddle, showing off.

Isabel also played ping-pong and pool and, when the painting was done, most of the families stuck around at the playground outside. Only when it started to rain did we leave, having spent the better part of the day out.

When we got home, we did two worksheets and a new game we're playing - I spell words and Isabel writes down the letters and then sounds them out. D's and B's are a little tricky - I have to help with those sometimes.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reading and writing and math... oh, my!

Things are going quite well here. Isabel is not reading fluently yet, but is getting proficient with phonics. So three-letter words, look out! Belle can decode you all.

Handwriting is coming along very well, too, although I've noticed that Isabel has some trouble forming certain aspects of letters - specifically, upper-right to bottom-left diagonals. It's extremely subtle, so subtle that if I weren't right with her, watching her actually work the pencil on paper as she tried to form the letters, I probably wouldn't have noticed the pattern. So I've been leading some painting and follow-the-leader activities that simulate this same upper-right to bottom-left diagonal motion and, sure enough, it's a gross motor issue as well as fine motor. If we had the child in activities that used her arms as well as her legs, we probably would have noticed it sooner. Well, not true - it hasn't proven to be an issue in gymnastics, and they do use their arms in gymnastics. She's the T-Rex of athletes, what with her main outlets being the arm-less soccer and Irish dancing, though, so it's easy to miss arm issues. But, I digress.

Now, when Belle was a baby, she had arm tremors and generalized weakness until she was about 8 months old. It was the only holdover from her brain hemmorhage. Those issues seemingly resolved, but now I'm noticing this difficulty with the diagonals. I think it's most likely related. We have a neurology follow up in the next few weeks and I'm going to bring it up to Dr. K- and request a developmental evaluation. I don't think this is a major issue, but I want to work on it. We should probably also check to see if she has adequate arm strength, too, since that was a problem in her infancy. Still, not too shabby for a kid who's missing nearly half of her frontal lobe.

Math has been fun here lately. We bought an abacus and are working sums like crazy. The abacus seems to 'click' for Isabel in a way that the Cuisenaire Rods haven't. We still use the rods and like them, and they're really useful for demonstrating concepts, but Isabel likes the abacus more.

We've also been doing reviews of basic concepts - shapes, colors, tracing, cutting and pasting, etc. Blah. It's boring, but necessary. Belle doesn't find it boring, so that's good.

Our other maqjor topic right now is reptiles/lizards. This month's science group was on frogs, and that was very fun. The kids loved watching the frog eat. I'll be hitting the zoo and science museum with the kids in the next couple of weeks, to learn more about reptiles and lizards.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Friday, September Whatever-It-Was, 2008

Yesterday. We looked at a pinecone and discovered how it spreads seeds to make new trees. We reviewed the usual stuff.

I was up until 3:30 am writing the last chapter of a 72,000+-word novel, so forgive my brevity here. I'm tapped out.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday, September 3, 2008 - Urban Nature Sanctuary

The science museum owns a nature preserve, and that's where Isabel's science program - a hands-on program for kids aged 5-7 - met today. We went for a walk through the preserve (which they call an "urban nature sanctuary" - I don't know why, but that strikes me as funny) and were able to see and touch all kinds of plantlife, and some animals and bugs, too!

Tifft (the preserve) is wonderful. It's right in the city, but when you get in on the trails, it feels like you're a million miles away. We saw a family of egrets in one of the small lakes that dot the preserve, on our way out. Isabel loved watching them - we saw one fly away, and the others were fishing.

The paths go through forest and wetlands. In the wetlands area, a system of raised platforms allow visitors to walk over the water - we looked over the railings and watched frogs and turtles in the water. The frogs blend so perfectly with the surrounding water plants that staring right at one, you would be lucky to see it. We found several bullfrogs submerged, just their eyes peering up over the surface of the water. Dragonflies were everywhere. And the cattails grow so tall, they're all you can see in every direction.

The class instructor, Miss Meghan (who is just fantastic - we love her), pulled a cattail flower and let all the children rub it, to feel how fuzzy it is. Then she opened it up and showed us the seeds inside, which look very much like dandelion seeds. This fit very well with the seed project Isabel and I worked on yesterday. She showed us how the wind carries the seeds, and the seeds will land and sprout new cattails.

We also found a very neat nest of tent caterpillars. There were dozens - maybe even hundreds - of caterpillars wriggling around in the nest.

Evidence of beavers was everywhere, too. We saw a dam, some trees that have been downed by beavers, and a beaver lodge.

It was a fun time. We all went, so it was a nice family outing, as well. We plan to go again.

And now, we must examine ourselves for ticks before turning in for the night.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Today was not nearly as busy as yesterday... we started with a walk outside, where we found some maple seeds (helicopters!) and leaves, and some fluffy and yellow dandelions.

Back home, we went over our address and phone number, and Isabel practiced writing her name. Then handwriting - we're on Starting Corner capitals right now (from Handwriting Without Tears) and worked primarily on "L", though we also reviewed several of the Frog Jump capitals. Isabel's handwriting is really coming along nicely.

We went back to vowel sound practice today, because the short vowel sound of "I" is still really tricky for her (odd, because it starts her name...). I think she's getting it now, though. We read a few practice sentences and I notice that the phonemic blending is beginning to take off as well. The issue we battle right now is Isabel's tendency to insert additional sounds, like sounding out i-s, and ending up with "its" instead of "is". In the process of blending her sounds, she often adds stops that are unecessary and lead her to add new phonemes to the word. This is a problem with "R" words, too, as another example - "red" becomes "ered".

I wanted to save the seeds for last, but Isabel was itching to get on them, so we moved on to our seed project. I wanted to just make a poster, but she decided she wanted to make a BOOK. We compromised on making several posters to cover different stages of the plant life cycle, which we'll then bind into a book. For today, we made a poster about seeds. Isabel sounded out and wrote "SEEDS", and drew a picture of seeds in the ground. She correctly identified the three things seeds need to grow (soil, water, sun) and we discovered how seeds are spread by examining the dandelion and maple seeds, and blowing them with our mouths and a hairdryer (um, they go really far this way). We discovered how the two seeds, even though they look very different, share the same structures. Isabel taped the seeds to the poster, along with what they will grow into (we used a leaf for the maple, no room to tape a tree to the page).

We ended our schoolwork today with two math worksheets from the Miquon orange book. Numbers are starting to make more sense to Isabel now, something I'm pleased to see. One of the worksheets had four rows, each with four boxes. Each box had ten shapes. In some of the boxes, a certain number of the shapes would be colored in - in that case, Isabel had to write that number (say, 7) in the box. In other cases, the number would be written, and Isabel would have to color in the appropriate number of shapes. But yet, in OTHER cases, the box would be blank, with no shapes colored in. And Isabel would have to predict what number SHOULD be in that box, based on the numbers elsewhere in the row. I thought this concept would be too advanced for her, but she actually got it. She further surprised me by correctly grasping that "0" meant coloring in NO shapes. She did very well. Then she built a fort with the Cuisenaire Rods. I guess that's what "fun with math" means.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008 (We're back!)

So, I got lazy over the summer. With the blog, that is. We were actually so busy I'm amazed I remembered to breathe, much less feed and clothe myself and two children. And although we kept up a basic level of schoolwork over the past few months, I didn't impose any sort of structured routine. When all the summer activities finished up, we earmarked today as the day to get back into a routine and kick off a new year.

Prep work for Kindergarten is pretty minimal, really. I printed off my list of NYS learning standards for K, and was pleasantly surprised to find that we covered most of them last year. This is good, as I was hoping to really focus on literacy and numeracy this year. Isabel is enrolled in a program at the local science museum, to augment our science studies, and I'm using those classes as a guide to other science activities at home. And so, it was with this guidance that we launched a unit on plants today.

We spent the morning and early afternoon at the Botanical Garden. We had an absolute blast. And we learned stuff, too. Isabel completed a scavenger hunt, finding flowers, plants and other items from throughout the gardens. We also reviewed the five senses and figured out which senses we could use in a plant/flower investigation; then, as we proceeded through various garden rooms, Isabel selected a plant or flower and used her senses to investigate it. We decided that taste probably wasn't a good sense to use for investigation plants and flowers, and I was ready to dismiss hearing, too, but Isabel thought we should use it. So in each space, we touched, smelled, looked and listened to the plants she selected. The palm tree was "REALLY huge!" and rough, and the magnolia smelled sweet. We watched koi in the koi pond and found a bunch of dinosaur topiaries - this was fun because we did a lot of reading about dinosaurs last month. Isabel was nervous in the cactus room when I explained that we can't touch the plants, but we rubbed the dirt in which the cactuses grow.

Once we'd made our way through the gardens, we headed outside to the childrens' garden. Both Isabel and Aidan had a great time playing. Isabel loved the water pumps, and Aidan enjoyed the sand pit. We looked at the flowers and other plants growing outside, as well. When we left, the children were wet and filthy, but happy.

Back home, we practiced writing Isabel's name, reviewed letter sounds and completed two worksheets (one on shape matching and another maze-type sheet for motor skills).

Some more pictures of our time at the Botanical Garden:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 12, 2008


That's right. BLAH.

Three days of silence, and all I have is "blah"? Yes, that's right. Want to know why? Because our home was infiltrated this week by the sick. The pukey, high fever, whining, miserable sick.

Needless to say, there has been no animal-book-making happening here this week.

Today, both kids were starting to perk up a bit. No vomit, no temperatures. Just some over the top hysterics at the drop of a hat, I think because the sick has left the children a little tired. But by this afternoon, we were pretty much back to normal. With cautious optimism, I even packed up the wee ones and took Isabel to her first soccer practice this afternoon. She desperately needed to be OUT after being cooped up all week, and she did great.

This afternoon, discussion of the sick led us to look up the digestive system. As soon as I got around to mentioning that unused food is passed from our bodies as poop, Isabel was hooked. Yay, poop! We looked as illustrations of the digestive system, talked about how nutrients are converted to energy by our bodies and, of course, all about poop.

We also talked about that some creatures have more than one stomach. Apparently, this was a fascinating revelation and we discussed cows and bees, which then further continued into a discussion about how honey is made. Did you know that bees chew nectar in order to make it into thick, sticky honey? I didn't. Bees tongues are also hollow, like straws, and that's how they suck up nectar from flowers.

Isabel's most urgent inquiry was whether bees collect nectar from dandelions. I would have thought no, but it turns out that they do.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Back from vacation

It was a long week, but FUN. We spent all day Monday at the Toronto Zoo, which was fabulous. I can't say enough about that zoo. It's amazing.

Tuesday and Wednesday, we spent at the Americana waterpark resort in Niagara Falls, Canada. It was fun, but mostly just because Nick and I had a quiet moment not long after we arrived in which we murmured to one another that we were going to make the best of it and enjoy ourselves, period. It was an okay place, but not impressive. Our biggest complaint was that the cleaning service was poor. At best. In the end, I hunkered down with baby wipes and soap on a washcloth, and washed down the bathroom as best I could, myself. Now, I have a lot of sympathy for housekeeping staff at hotels - I think human beings, in general, can be fairly disgusting animals and people who are in the professions that clean up after people are like really badly paid zookeepers. But even my sympathy has limits, and clumps of hair on the floor in the bathroom are way, way, waaaaaaay beyond those limits.

The waterpark itself was also a lot smaller than we'd thought it would be, and the majority of the features were closed at any given time. I was actually fine with that, thinking that if the options were to have everything open but overextended lifeguarding staff, or adequate lifeguards covering fewer features, I'd opt to have things closed. BUT the lifeguard staff was pretty lazy. Or so I learned when the one at the top of the waterslide waved people through even while saying he was supposed to have them wait eight seconds but "who cares," and then allowed me to go down the slide situated backwards on the tube (something I figured out a quarter of the way down, when I almost toppled back on my head and spent the rest of the slide in a state of pacnicked struggle, trying not to knock myself out).

Don't get me wrong - we still had fun. A LOT of fun. The kids had a blast and we laughed and smiled all day long, both days. But we will not go back again.

We got a ton of pictures at the zoo, and next week, in addition to starting up our consonant review, we are going to get prints made of the various animals and use the Toronto Zoo map as a guide to look up each animal, write down facts about that and glue in the pictures to make an animal book. Isabel's favorite thing by far (mine, too!) was the stingrays. We'll spend a lot of time on them, I expect.

For now, a few pictures from our trip (animal pictures to follow next week, as we look things up):