Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Once again, it is unspeakably late. One day I'll go through and edit all these nonsensical, jumbled, poorly-written late-night entries.

Good day today. Everyone was in a great mood and we got a lot done. The morning was hard because Aidan was exhausted and cranky but refused to nap. Isabel decided to play gymnastics while I dealt with him - she misses her gymnastics classes. We're currently in a 6-ish-week lull between Spring and Summer programs, and she's getting a bit stir-crazy. Everything starts back up at the end of June and beginning of July. For now, though, we have a pink plastic balance beam and a very dedicated little gymnast hard at work in the living room.

Aidan finally fell asleep around lunchtime, so I whipped up some food and Isabel and I got to spend some time sitting together, eating and talking. When we finished with that, we moved on to some schoolwork.

We finished our vowels! It feels like we've been covering vowels forever. We will continue to do brief vowel reviews regularly, but we are done learning our vowel poem and working intensively on short-vowel sounds. Tomorrow we move on to consonants. It's possible I'll put aside our letter/phoneme work until after next week's vacation. It may be best to periodically call out to Isabel, "Hey, what's the short-vowel sound of A?" over the next week or so, for review, then start fresh with consonants when we get back.

We've also been working on Frog Jump Capitals in Handwriting Without Tears. We reviewed letters we've covered so far, then played a game in which Isabel had to begin writing a letter by making her line and frog-jumping back up, then I'd call out what letter to write. It reinforces the correct way to form the letters and Isabel thought it was great - she was giggling so much that her pencil was shaking. We also did some copywork

A friend of mine sent a lovely package to us with some gorgeous shirts her daughter has outgrown, a package of Brain Quest cards and a neat little workbook dealing with story sequencing, something I've spoken with my friend about Isabel having some trouble with. Isabel adores workbooks of all kinds and was chomping at the bit to begin a new one. She likes workbooks the way most kids like coloring books. This workbook is wonderful because it involves cutting out the various sentences from the story and then gluing them on the page in order. Anything that requires cutting and gluing makes Isabel very happy. We completed one story and I promised Isabel we'll do the next tomorrow.

The Brain Quest cards were something new for me - I've seen them in stores but never looked at them carefully. So after I read Isabel a story, we sat with the cards to see what they're all about.

They. Are. Awesome.

Isabel LOVES them. I'm going to have to go buy her more, as many as I can find. This packet had 300 questions in it - we promptly went through 150 of those questions and only stopped because I said we should save the rest for later. Isabel would have happily plowed through the other 150 right then if I'd let her. The cards have all kinds of questions - pictures with items missing that need to be identified, sequencing (yay!), number recognition, counting, shape recognition, letter recognition, rhyming, and so many others. We had a lot of fun with them.

We rounded out the day by watching Annie and then, when Nick got home, he and Isabel played a game they made up that involves trying to knock one another's blocks down by rolling a ball. I'm not sure I fully understand it, but they love it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Heh - It's actually the 29th already. Working late. But I didn't want to go to bed without journaling the day.

We accomplished quite a lot today, actually. We made up some of our desk work, going over letter review and making slow but steady process memorizing a short vowel sound poem. Isabel illustrated another page in The Five Vowels, the primer that she's making. When we finished our letter work, she asked for some index cards and my marker, and she made some letter cards of her own to teach to her imaginary friend, Richie. (Richie has been a staple in our family for close to two years now. Luckily, he is very small - he stands in the palm of Isabel's hand - and so it's not a real hardship to accommodate him.) She taught him P, M, N and a few others that I don't remember offhand. When she bored of teaching Richie, I brought out some handwriting paper and set Isabel up with copywork while I prepared lunch. I was still in the kitchen when she finished and so she decided to teach herself to write the number five. Which she did. One less thing I need to work on with her, I suppose.

After lunch, we made our way to the library. Isabel asked to search the computer and wanted to look up the keyword "kids." After the results (most definitely not the kids' books Isabel had expected!) came up, we brought our bag over to the childrens' section and Isabel selected her books. Since we're going to be out of town for most of next week, and we still have a few previously-borrowed straggler books at home that Isabel hasn't wanted to return yet, she only picked out three titles today. I had hoped to find a few specific books, but Isabel was anxious to go and was - loudly - practicing her Irish dancing in the middle of the library, so I plucked a couple selections out of my favorite sections and we got out of there.

From there, it wasn't far to go a local park and meet up with a playgroup we sometimes do things with. I didn't know the mothers there very well, but they were pleasant and the children all played nicely. Aidan finds the park frustrating because he wants to GO and DO but he is still too small and can't walk. I was able to occupy him with my keys and the baby swings for a while. Isabel is learning how to pump her legs on the swings. She's not quite getting it yet but I remember being six or so before I figured it out (I still remember the day I finally did it). We spent an hour playing and then it was time to go.

Leaving the park did not go well. Isabel did not want to leave. It wasn't pretty. Mommy moments like that are hard, especially when you have an audience. But we did ultimately get back to our car and then promptly returned home - do not stop for ice cream, do not pass GO.

There were time outs and tears and two long discussions (one that resulted in another time out, and then the discussion that finally cleared the air). Once we got through that, Isabel sat with her library books and flipped through them for a few minutes before we picked up Nick from work. From there, we all went out to see him play soccer. Isabel and Aidan and I were a small but eager cheering section. We clapped for goals, and for almost-goals, and for trying-real-hard. Aidan ate dandelions. Lots of dandelions, actually. Isabel counted airplanes coming from the nearby airport, and we discussed in great detail the various rules of soccer, as she will begin playing in a few weeks herself.

Hard stops

I swear, that last post has them. They are formatted in. They simply do not show. I have edited a dozen times. What the hell?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's the 27th, right? I lost track of the days over the long weekend.

Phew. It was lovely to have a long weekend, but recovering from those days off is always hard. I find that the first day of the week always gimps along awkwardly - it's not until day #2 that we really hit our stride. That goes double for the first day back after a holiday weekend.

We had a pretty good weekend here. The weather was gorgeous. I was, unfortunately, holed up working for quite a bit of it but we still managed to find time as a family to purchase and assemble all the basics of our square foot garden. It's pretty impressive, really. Our square foot garden measures 4- by 3-feet, with space allocated for a surprising number of vegetable plants (I kill flowers). It is not fancy or pretty, but it gets the job done. It's fun for Isabel to help with the garden and she's especially happy to add the green bean plant that she sprouted herself, as a project for the Wee Explorers preschool program she attends at the science museum. This week we'll put all our plants in.
We also cut Isabel's hair over the weekend. It was an accident, actually, and we had to make an emergency run to Nick's cousin to have the cut evened up. Isabel has been asking for short hair but I had resisted because I like the convenience of being able to easily pull long hair back into a ponytail. I agreed only to a little trim. Sadly, just as I was about to *snip* with the scissors, the child moved. And *chop*. I was left with a handful of long, blonde hair. All's well that ends well, though. She is happy and it's really cute on her, as evidenced in the attached photos. (Also notice the new sneakers that she ties all by herself.) We told her that the cut makes her look older. The next day, to her grandmother, she reported, "My Mom and Dad say my new hair makes me look like an old lady."
Today all desk work was set aside when three huge trucks marked Schneck's Tree Removal pulled up out front. Our stump! Before the fall, our property was the home to an enormous, ancient death trap of a tree that dropped log-like branches on whatever unfortunate vehicle, toy or person happened to be beneath it at that moment. After extensive complaints by ourselves and our neighbors and, finally, calls to our representative, the city removed the tree (it was a street-adjacent tree, the city's responsibility). The stump remained. Until today.
Isabel and I parked ourselves in the front window, gawking shamelessly, while the stump was ground down, shoveled into a huge pile and scooped into the bed of a dump truck. Then new dirt was brought out, shoveled into the hole, patted down, and sprinkled with grass seed. After they left, we marched outside to see what the grass seeds look like and compare the size of the area ground up to what we remembered the circumference of the stump to be (and talked about root systems while doing so).
This afternoon was Irish dancing, and then the kids and I made our way to Wegmans to grocery shop for the week. I find grocery shopping to be a trip that is full of opportunities for kids to explore and learn. Plus, Isabel just plain old enjoys the grocery store. She asked for some paper and a pen, which she drew and wrote on as we meandered through the store. The produce section is a lot of fun for her - her "special job" is to remember the produce codes as we take our selections to the scale. I punch in the code and then Isabel takes the sticker and puts it on our item. Throughout the rest of the store, she reads prices for me and we compare items to figure out which is bigger or smaller, heavier or lighter.
In the middle of choosing canned tomatoes, Aidan put both of his fat little hands on my cheeks and very deliberately pulled my face down to his (he was riding in the sling, so only about a foot removed from my head) and kissed me. It was a wet baby kiss, very slobbery and goofy, but very sweet. Then he clapped for himself and said, "Ay!" (which is "yay" without the first "y"). Too cute.
Isabel helped at the checkout line as well. When we left the store, she proudly showed me her paper, on which she had been carefully writing her name. She sometimes forgets the "b", but her letters really are formed well.
Tomorrow: Library. It was closed yesterday. I had thought we'd do some work on arachnids this week, but I still have a bad case of the heebie-jeebies from a horrible Oh, what's this tickle behind my ear? I'll scratch it - aahh ahhhh AHHH AHHHHHHHH SPIDER! experience on Saturday. So arachnids will wait until the memory of pulling a gigantic wolf spider out of my ear has faded a bit. Since we're going to the Toronto Zoo next week (vacation!), I think maybe we'll do some more animals. Or trucks, maybe - Isabel liked the trucks today. I'll ask her what she wants to read about. Such is the beauty of homeschooling.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

By 4:30 pm on Friday, I find myself being less likely to respond to questions and play suggestions with enthusiasm, and far more likely to slip into half-hearted "Yeah"s and "Sure"s. As such, on Fridays I strive for us to have either a family field trip or a lazy at-home day when I can slip in a movie by 5. Since Nick worked an early shift this week on Wednesday and that day ended up being less than ambitious, I decided today would be a good day to go out somewhere. The weather was good and we had to renew our membership anyway, so we headed to the zoo.

What I learned at the zoo: Isabel remembers a lot more about mammals than I'd expected. She also asked a lot of really interesting questions about the animals, most of which (luckily) were quickly and easily answered by the signage on each display. Her most consistent questions were about what each animal ate, but she also wanted to know what the rhino's (well, she calls it the hippopotamus) horn is made of, if the giraffe's skin has spots like its fur, if Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep can jump, if sea lions are mammals or fish and if bears can climb, among other things. Which reminds me, I told her we'd research whether or not the sheep can jump when we got home and then we forgot - something for over the weekend, I suppose. I was particularly surprised when, in the giraffe house, Isabel told me, "You know, Mom, it's good that giraffes have those long necks because then they can see if the lions or tigers try to come eat them!" She then described, in great detail, how the long necks help giraffes to eat the leaves in the treetops, "and those are their favorites!"

We spent the most time with the gorillas and sea lions. Isabel was less interested in the tiger, which was unfortunate because he was very close to the glass and roaring quite dramatically. We did stop and watch him for a while, but only because I wanted to.

We stopped at the playground for a bit and Isabel played with a very nice little boy. It was short-lived, however, because the zoo playground has a very large, very ominous-looking snake slide that, every year, it takes Isabel several visits to get re-adjusted to. This is the first spring in a few years that Isabel isn't attending the zoo's weekly preschool program (she aged out this year), so we haven't been there as often as usual. I can hardly blame her for being nervous around that slide - it is intimidating. So we got ice cream instead. Aidan had dry cereal, which sounds boring but he's quite happy with it.

Back in the car, I gave Isabel the zoo magazine that came with our membership information and she sounded out the words "zoo" and "log." She also practiced spelling "fox" - she started spelling it a few days ago and says she sounded it out, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she picked it up when she was up late earlier this week and watched American Idol for 45 minutes or so. In any case, she can spell fox.

I decided to go out for dinner, frankly because I was too tired and lazy to cook anything. We went to Denny's because it's fast, convenient and relatively tasty, if not necessarily good for us. While we were getting our food, Isabel told the waitress that she has "beautiful!" fingernails (they were purple). The waitress was appropriately flattered.

Aidan says "Dah-dee" now. In the past four days he's picked up three new words. "Uh-oh," he uses in context (namely, when he drops something or gets himself stuck somewhere); "wow," he seems to just be having fun with as a random sound. It remains to be seen if "Dah-dee" has any context for him. So far he seems to be using it specifically for Nick, but it's too early to tell. He's also starting to sign more often. I'm sort of in awe of all the things he's doing.

I'll be working most of this weekend, hoping to finish my project before we all go on vacation June 1. There won't be any dedicated homeschool work for the next three days, though I'm sure Isabel will strong-arm us into teaching her something during this time - she has more curiosity than a dozen adults.

One final, fun note for today - I sat with Isabel this morning to read through her monthly issue of Your Big Backyard magazine and we found a spread inside about two kids who live in Tanzania with their wildlife conservator father... and they're homeschooled! Isabel was thrilled. She was especially pleased to see that they also sit at their table to do homeschool work.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008 - alternatively titled, In Which I Realize That Posting Photos Here Makes Obvious Just How Often She Wears That Tank Top

More mammals today, this time water mammals. Isabel wanted to know about dorsal fins and Nick, from work, emailed her a dorsal fin wiki page. We looked it over and then searched for more dorsal fin information, using the internet and the two mammal books we borrowed from the library. We talked about both classes of water mammals, Sirenians and Cetaceans, but it was quickly obvious that Isabel's interest was reserved for dolphins and whales, so we narrowed our focus to Cetaceans. At first her questions were all over the place - What do whales eat? How do they breathe? Will they die if they come out of water? How do they dive? How fast do they go? - but eventually her focus returned to dorsal fins. What do they do? Do some whales not have them? How big are they? Do they help the whales to breathe?

One of our mammal books was particularly informative but while reading through it, an idea planted itself in my brain and I decided dorsal fins were a great topic for an experiment. Isabel, always up for a project, was game, and we managed to find all the supplies we needed in the house: empty soda bottles, a triangular bit of plastic (the cover to my pie cutter!), duct tape, a balloon. Imagine, if you will, that the empty bottles are whales. We will call them Diet Pepsi and Aquafina.

Isabel selected a sheet of blue construction paper (blue because water is blue) and wrote - 100% on her own (I did tell her what letters to write) - DORSAL FIN on the top. We talked about what animals have dorsal fins and that they are sea mammals; I wrote her narration on the page. Isabel drew a rather interesting-looking dolphin and we labeled its parts - head, eyes, blowhole, tail and dorsal fin. Then we began our experiment.

First, we used a balloon to visualize what lungs look like and what they do. We blew up and deflated the balloon to simulate breathing. Then I blew up the balloon and, holding it closed in such a way that created a long "stem," we poured a bit of water in the top to see how a whale's blowhole, the pathway to its lungs, would fill with water. When I stopped pinching the balloon, water blew everywhere (and it really went everywhere!), just the way a whale blows water out its blowhole. Isabel thought this was fabulous and we repeated the balloon/blowhole thing quite a few times (her construction paper got pretty wet, but it dried well).
We placed the slightly-inflated, knotted balloon inside our Diet Pepsi dolphin, to represent its lungs. We put a little water in both bottles to add weight (if I were to do this experiment again, I'd tape washers to each bottle to weight them, instead of using water - it created uneven weight) and sealed them up. Aquafina, we then left alone. To Diet Pepsi, we attached our pie-cutter-cover-dorsal fin with a fair amount of duct tape. Then we all crowded into the bathroom, where we filled the bathtub and experimented to see how the dorsal fin affected our dolphin's ability to "swim." It wasn't perfect but we were able to demonstrate that the fin made it easier to turn our dolphin, and prevented the dolphin from log-rolling in the water. Aidan fancied himself a helper and Isabel let him throw the dolphins in the water a few times to create big splashes. After a bit, Isabel asked to wear her bathing suit and swim with the dolphins, which I said sounded like a great idea. She threw the dolphins around in the water and pretended to feed them fish, which led to a discussion about toothed vs. baleen whales.

Our dorsal fin project took a long time. After it was done, we all dried off and ran out to register Isabel for summer soccer. I had to get cash from the bank to pay for soccer, and also took out a bit extra so that we could talk about coin and paper money back home (I've been wanting to discuss money with Isabel but, even though we always have a boatload of coins, we never have bills around). We reviewed the names of everything - bills were easy, since they're just numbers. Coins are a different story. Isabel calls them (in order from smallest denomination to largest): pickle, pickle, diamond, square. After playing with money for a while, we did our vowel review for the day.

When Nick got home from work, Isabel could barely contain herself, she was so excited to replicate the dolphin experiment for him.

Aidan continues to show us our noses. I'm starting to teach him "mouth" now, since he seems to have "nose" down. Whenever he drops something, he says "uh-oh!" This afternoon he heard me say "Wow!" to Isabel and repeated it beautifully; since then he's been crawling around, carefully enunciating "Wah-owwwww" every time he comes across a toy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Some notes on what we're covering and why

Thanks for the emails, those who have sent them! I'm glad people seem to be enjoying this format so much. Some of the questions and comments that have been sent my way have inspired me to write up a little (or a big, knowing my tendency to wordiness) something about what material we're covering, why, how, etc.

Right now, at the preschool level, we're following a decidedly low-key learning strategy. At four years old, my child is so full of wonder and curiosity about her world that it would, it seems to me, take enormous effort NOT to follow her lead into a myriad of daily learning experiences. I'm inclined to believe that all neurotypical preschoolers are this way, though I recognize that my expertise is limited to my child. Even today, during lunch, we explored spiders in great detail as a result of Isabel's undying desire to know. Her simple observation of a spider outside our dining room window led to a series of questions: How does a spider spin a web? What is the web made of? What does the web do? Does the spider have a house or nest? How many legs does a spider have? What do spiders eat? How do they catch their food? Do spiders have teeth?

To resist the questions of a precocious four-year-old would require greater effort - and would surely be a lot more dull - than to simply answer what I can and for the rest say, How about we look that up on the computer? or, I think there's a section on spiders in your Berenstain Bears science book - want to go see? It is not a difficult thing to sit with children on the floor as they "play" their toy pianos and say, "Hey, do want to learn what a scale is?" Or to respond to the restless child waiting for lunch, "Sure, come help me make the sandwiches. While we're doing that, do you want to know what peanut butter is made of?" All of these relatively small efforts, just part of daily life, are learning. Even though I didn't begin self-identifying as a homeschooler until this last year (when people out and about started asking Isabel if she goes to school), our homeschooling work began years ago, when we'd spend an hour looking at and talking about lions at the zoo, or researching the water cycle when she asked where rain comes from.

This is how the great majority of our learning happens. The subject matter we pursue, presently, is driven by Isabel's interests. If her curiosity about spiders persists at all past today's lunchtime discussion, next week we will most likely study arachnids, possibly in conjunction with insects. This week's work on mammals was driven by Isabel's questions regarding two topics - Do all animals feed babies from their breasts (as Aidan is fed)?, and an overwhelming desire to learn everything she possibly could about her new hamster (aptly named Tracy Turnblad - who knew a hamster could be so loud?).

I do enforce a short duration of desk work each day - currently I aim for 20 - 30 minutes. This is primarily because the number one goal of our schooling, right now, is to get Isabel reading fluently. She is developmentally ready for it and wants to learn. Reading is, above all else, The Most Important Thing. Children (and adults) who cannot read fluently cannot succeed to their potential - not in any other subject, not in college, not in careers. In my opinion, of course. Not only does an inability to read well rob them of the truly wonderful pastime of reading, of thinking, of being part of The Great Conversation that engages minds and hearts from the duration of modern history through today, it also steals their ability to DO. To do what? Well, to do whatever. Whatever one might want or dream to do. Anything, everything, nothing. It doesn't matter what. What matters is that an inability to read puts an end to the question before it can even be asked.

Reading is where it's at. And that is what our desk work focuses on. In addition to using deskwork to achieve reading fluency (and I should mention here that nothing - not even the ever-important reading - is pushed in this house prior to full developmental readiness), the minimum 20 daily minutes of desk time we log now is part of a gradual introduction to the 60-90 minutes of desk time that will be necessary to cover the material in a specific curriculum come grade 1.

Because of her own aptitudes, interests and abilities, we also work on handwriting and basic numeracy as time allows and Isabel desires. Once phonics basics are more firmly in place and don't need to be as much of a daily focus, handwriting will become a higher priority and will be part of daily schoolwork. Around that same time, maths will also become a daily activity.

When Isabel turns 6 - approximately grade 1 - we will begin filing legal paperwork and reporting to the state. This is also the age at which we will begin a more structured, formalized curriculum.

The educational philosophy that resonates most with me, and that I plan to use with my children, is the classical approach dictated by the trivium. The trivium is a three-stage approach to education that covers material following a chronological, historical timeline of four years. These four years are repeated three times throughout the child's academic career. In short, the same material will be covered, in varying degrees of detail and complexity, three times between first and twelfth grades. Grages 1-4 focus on learning and memorizing (when necessary) information, grades 5-8 emphasize learing to recognize patterns, relationships and the overall framework within which all knowledge resides, and grades 9-12 involve learning to critically analyze information, develop informed opinions and express oneself clearly and with originality, feeling and beauty (referring to communication style). This is a Christian website - and I would not categorize us as Christian homeschoolers (though we are Christian, and are homeschoolers) - but has a nice summary of what the trivium is.

Even though Isabel is not yet 6, I still consider her to be part of the Grammar stage, as outlined in the trivium. This means that our current approach to educating her is to simply provide her with information - as much information as she wants, on whatever she wants to know, without requiring her to process, analyze or compare. Processing, analyzing and comparing will come later in her education, at a time when she is more developmentally prepared for them. Right now, she is simply learning. And no, she may not retain everything she learns now. She very likely won't remember that egg-laying mammals are called monotremes. But she will cover this information at least twice more (actually, in this case, three times more, since we haven't even embarked on a structured curriculum yet) in her schooling. Even if she doesn't remember, exposure to this information, introduction to the concepts that animals are organized into classifications and those classifications have names, will serve as the foundation upon which she will build greater, more detailed knowledge regarding biology and the animal kingdom.

I enjoy talking about why and how we homeschool, so please don't hesitate to ask questions by email or via the comments interface here on the weblog. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today was not a great day.

Aidan is teething and not sleeping well. Isabel fell out of her bed in the middle of the night last night and then re-woke about 90 minutes later to go to the bathroom and generally putz around in middle-of-the-night misery. I am not sleeping because Aidan is not sleeping. We all had a bad case of the crankies. I am glad to see this day end.

We did a very small amount of desk work today, working on letters A and E. I'd thought about doing some handwriting practice but given the universal foul moods in the house, decided we'd be better served by something using more modes of learning, so as to be more all-around interesting. So instead, we recited the first two verses of a short-vowel sound poem, sang our Old MacDonald vowel song, and started working on a self-made primer Isabel titled "The Five Vowels." The first two pages are narration pages - Isabel recited the vowels for me and I wrote them as she said them, and then (on the second page) she explained - correctly! - what makes vowels special and different from other letters. The next two sections are for vowels A and E - we wrote the poem we're learning, thought up short-vowel sound words for each letter and then Isabel drew pictures for each ("Oh no!" she howled while drawing her A page. "I counted wrong and my alligator has EIGHT legs!" I assured her that it was fine.).

After some lunch and general down/play-time, we sat on the floor and looked at a book about mammals. Aidan thinks he's very clever - he sits on the book and we have to slide it out from under him. We talked about the different classifications of mammals, including monotremes (mammals that lay eggs), a group of mammals I'd been neglecting until now because Isabel was really struggling with the whole mammals with fur/birds with feathers issue. I didn't want to introduce egg-laying mammals until she had grasped more fully that birds are not mammals. I'd been avoiding bats (wings are something she associates with birds) for the same reason - we did cover them today. Luckily, the birds/mammals confusion seems largely resolved and after a host of questions about mammals laying eggs, she accepted monotremes and we moved on. We learned that mammals have lower jaws that are one bone (something I hadn't known, either), and we felt each others' jaws to figure out what that bone must look like ("kind of like a 'c', but longer," she said). Isabel is particularly intrigued by marsupials and asked to go to the zoo to see kangaroos soon.

Aidan's big achievement was that he learned where Mama's nose is. He is very proud and expects lots of cheering whenever he shows me.

Today was Irish dancing class as well. The children in this class all seem very nice and Isabel enjoys it.

At dinnertime Isabel thought of some more short vowel E words to add to her book, which I did promptly. We looked at one of her mammal books (in addition to fun reading) before bed and then I left it in the pile of books in her room (she is allowed to look at books in bed at night if she's not tired yet). About 10 minutes later she got out of bed to bring the mammal book downstairs - she was looking at the Orca and wanted to know what the big, top fin is called. Nick told her it's the dorsal fin and she immediately wanted to know what it does. We will look it up in the morning - Isabel had us put the book next to the computer so we don't forget.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

I had about two pounds of strawberries in the refrigerator that needed to be used up today. So was the launching pad for today's main unit: strawberries (and other berries, by virtue of endless questions and tangents). We're doing vowel review now, so we did our "A" work, had lunch, and headed out for our weekly library trip, with strawberries in mind.

At the library, Isabel is learning how to use the computer search system. She scrambled up into the chair immediately when we arrived, wanting to search for "strawberries." "S", she got on her own - I helped with the other letters, but Isabel hen-pecked them out on her own, typing "strawberries" into the search system and leading us to the gardening section. (Aidan was quite happy with himself this whole time, smiling and waving to passers by from the sling.) We found a lovely (though, it turns out, not too interesting) berry book with a large section of photographs in the middle. Then we hit the childrens' section and some various adult sections, filling our bag as we went (we have the clown car of shopping bags). I made sure to grab some books on mammals, which we'll continue discussing this week. As usual, Isabel left with some interesting selections, courtesy of her slap-happy, random this-and-that approach to choosing books - I will say, though, that she grabs books I'd never think to and some of them are really wonderful.

When we got home, after Aidan had a snack and was napping soundly, we set up in the kitchen with our newly-borrowed berry book, a big pile of strawberries, and a cutting board and knife. First we discussed our senses - do we taste strawberries? smell them (see pic at right)? hear them (see pic above)? etc. - and examined the strawberries carefully. With the help of our berry book, we identified all the different parts of the strawberry and talked about how strawberries grow and how strawberries are different from other berries (seeds on the outside!). Washing the strawberries led to a lengthy discussion about pesticides, the importance of insects to the planet and conventional versus organic farming (which Isabel calls "morganic" for some reason that eludes me). We cut the strawberries and examined their insides... and then tasted some (strictly for educational purposes, naturally).

Once I cut up enough strawberries, we set them aside, gathered ingredients and set about making strawberry-almond muffins. Isabel enjoys baking very much and is getting quite good at some of the fine motor tasks in the kitchen: cracking eggs, sifting flour, mixing, filling muffin cups. We measured the ingredients and discussed what the fractions mean, using a quartered strawberry for reference. Counted the spaces in the muffin pan and figured out how many paper cups we'd need (twelve), then put the whole thing into the oven.

While the muffins baked, we read through one of the books Isabel selected at the library, then sat at the table and drew strawberry pictures. Isabel picked one and we labeled the different parts of the strawberry - I'll save this in our binder. Then the oven dinged and the muffins were done! They turned out really good - Isabel and I split one. While we were eating, Isabel declared, "Sharing is the best thing ever!" I told her I couldn't agree more, even though I sort of wished I had that muffin to myself!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big news today: Isabel is now the proud of owner of sneakers with laces that she can tie all by herself. (Also big news: sneakers with laces are expensive! Hopefully her feet don't grow for a while.)

Our biggest, current learning goal is to get Isabel reading fluently. She's progressing well - knows her letters and letter sounds ("phonemes," which is a fun word to say) and is starting on basic blending. Drilling basic phonics facts is pretty much a daily occurrence now, but today stands out as the day that Isabel mastered vowels. It helps that there's as many vowels (we're not tackling the "sometimes-y" conundrum yet) as there are fingers on a hand, and that has proven to be an excellent reference point. It also helps that we are a family of silly-song singers and the "e-i-e-i-o" verse of Old MacDonald is an easy way to memorize vowels: Old MacDonald had a vowel, AEIOU... And one of those vowels started a word, AEIOU...

One of Isabel's favorite activities is to think of words that start with short-vowel sounds, for the "here and there and everywhere" parts of the song. Pet peeve, though - ABC book writers and illustrators who do not stop to consider that small children will forever associate their books' pictures with specific letters. Grr. Somebody talk to these people. No matter how many times I correct and remind her, Isabel still knee-jerk calls out "Crocodile!" as a short-vowel A word. At this point she does catch and correct herself ("Oh, wait - that's C!"), so it's fine. But when there are so many non-confusing a-words to be had, why must one choose "alligator," so easily confused with "crocodile"? Vent over.

We AEIOU'd apples, alligators, elephants, Elmo, Isabel, igloos, octopuses (octopi? has that plurality question ever been resolved?), and umbrellas, among others. By the end of the day, Isabel was reciting her vowels without the need to sing them. We also discussed what makes vowels different from consonants (they are voiced phonemes that aren't formed by blocking or stopping air flow), experimented with holding our mouths in different ways while pronouncing short-vowel sounds and figured out different ways to make phonemes (hissing through teeth, tongue on the roof of the mouth, teeth on lips, plosives, etc). As usual with these sorts of exercises, it all ended up rather loud and silly. Reviewing this evening, however, Isabel easily recalled what makes vowels different from consonants.

Mammals were also a discussion point today - how to determine if an animal is a mammal (hair/fur, live birth, milk), different animals that are and are not mammals (birds proved to be tricky, leading to a comparison of hair, fur and feathers), defining herbivores, carnivores and omnivores and then a very interesting discussion about how people are and are not like animals, spurred by Isabel's adamant belief that people are NOT animals ("But Mom, people are just different!"). Later in the day, I think intrigued by our earlier discussion of whether or not ostriches are mammals, Isabel asked where ostriches live. Nick figured that they must live in Africa, because they appear in The Lion King (the logic is flawed but he was right!) . I wondered if they might also be in Asia, so we looked it up when we got home (ostriches are native to Africa, but also once-upon-a-time inhabited the Middle East and are domesticated worldwide).

Our last look-up of the day was Isabel's out-of-the-blue question about what the "line" above her upper lip is called, why it's there and what it does (philtrum, it is formed during fetal development and it allows for greater movement of the upper lip). Our related discussion also covered the importance of the lower jaw, during which Isabel surprised me by correctly figuring out that if our lower jaws did not move, we would be unable to speak or eat.

In addition to fun reading, we also read through Bruce McMillan's
Sense Suspense and talked about our five senses and what senses we'd use for each item pictured. I suggested licking the palm tree, which was met with giggles. Mommy is silly.

As for Aidan - well, he's easy. Isabel is helping me show him the parts of his face and body, and she's so chatty that between the two of us, he's getting ample exposure to language. I suspect he will be an early talker, as his sister was, based on the number of early words he has. He had a lot of fun today with a game that consisted of handing me one of three items - I'd lay them out in front of him, carefully repeating the name of each three times, then ask him to give me one. He got it right about half of the time, and he absolutely loved the clapping and "yay!" he got from Isabel and me when he'd hand over the right object. After a couple rounds, he lost interest and we simply clapped and cheered with him for a bit. Babies are so delightful.

Why a weblog?

Good question.

Why, thank you, self!

You're welcome, self.

1. Journaling, I have decided, is going to be an integral component of my homeschooling experience. "My" experience being that of parent/educator. Not only will this provide an outlet to review our activities, it's also a great opportunity to note what works, what doesn't work, what I like, what I hate, for reference when I tread the same path with subsequent children. Additionally, journaling our progress will be useful - and possibly (despite my fervent hopes otherwise), one day, necessary - for reporting purposes. My entries here will be printed and filed in a three-ring binder for computer-free reference. The online version offers a central, accessible-from-anywhere way to document... well, to document whatever I feel like documenting, really.

2. I have noticed that people - from family and friends to store cashiers and complete strangers - are interested in what we're doing. Very interested. Some, I blow off. Others - those whose curiosity is genuine, those who are seeking information and not ammunition - will more fully have their interest assuaged with this format, than whatever off-the-cuff, 30-second talking point I might try to provide. The truth is, what we do cannot be easily, simply or quickly described. It's not particularly advanced or complex, but is extensive and sufficiently outside the (traditional schooling) box to escape common definition.

That's it.