Friday, August 31, 2012

treasure chest - math & logic & programming, oh, my!

back to school time!

for some, those words are exciting, for others, not so much.  it runs the gamut for homeschoolers, just like it does for public-schoolers, private-schoolers, and any-other-kind-of-schoolers.  and it's different depending on your status as a learner or a teacher (if you are lucky and approach it with an open mind, you get to be both!)

for us, it means getting my act together to submit requests from our charter school, south sutter.

our es (educational specialist) has been impressed with how efficiently we use our funds; this does not happen magically, of course - it takes planning.  i'm trying something different this year, though, and i hope i'm as successful as in prior years.

rather than attending to curriculum first, i'm scheduling classes.  gasp!  what, no books??????

from experience, diana and i have learned that i get excited about a new curriculum and easily persuade (or uneasily coerce) her into trying it.  it goes fine for a while, then i get bored and she gets cranky and starts asking "why do we have to do it this way?" and i respond with "because it's in the curriculum that way and smarter people than we are have figured out what we need to do so let's just do it."  and then we're both grumpy and nothing is being learned except the fact that we got off our path.  and there are these incomplete books and materials sitting on the bookshelf, staring at me in an accusatory manner, as though there was something wrong with me because i couldn't teach with them or something wrong with diana because she wasn't learning from them.

enough of that nonsense.

so, our semester's funds have been requested for diana's classes at the davis art center.  she's continuing her study of aikido and irish dance and extending her study of weaving.  she's worked with small table looms and inkle looms in previous classes; she'll have a chance to work with large table looms and floor looms, if all goes well.  plus, diana's piano teacher became a vendor with our charter school so now our funds can go towards lessons.  that's a big help to our budget.

this is not to say that we don't use curriculum or workbooks.  we do.  we keep the stuff that works for us, for as long as it works for us.  the other stuff we quietly ignore until i go to the bookcase wondering just how did so much stuff get crammed in there and sort through things to dispose of or keep.  and, over time, i am cultivating an attitude of feeling more capable of using curriculum as a resource but not feeling like i have to follow it precisely.  or at all, for that matter.

i have yet to learn brevity, though, or how to stay on track, which is why i haven't yet addressed the topic of this post.  could also explain why my daughter's habit of getting distracted bothers me so much - it reminds me so much of my habits.

for my next installment of treasure chest (see what i have about science, too) here are my nuggets of the moment (gold rush days in old sac this weekend, so i have gold on my mind), meaning that this is what we are currently using/plan to use for diana this year (age equivalent to fourth grade):

mathematics: teaching textbooks, codebreakers, algebra antics, life of fred

logic:logic links, mind benders

programming: python4kids

all this will cost us very little.  we purchased the teaching textbooks from a fellow homeschooler last year, used, so it was less expensive than purchasing it new.  not "free" as it would be if we used charter school funds, but then again, we'll get to keep it and use it as long as we like, rather than have to return it at the end of the school year (or whenever we move).  the programming is online and free.  the workbooks are fairly inexpensive, too, and those are probably the things we will pay for out of pocket, given that all our funds are going to the classes mentioned above.

some references we have on hand are usborne's illustrated elementary math dictionary and illustrated dictionary of math.  and for some fun, there is g is for googol by david schwartz and the adventures of penrose the mathematical cat by theoni pappas.

games are good, too: tangrams and set are fun.  math is, after all, the study of patterns, at least according to my mathematical husband.

and in case you were wondering if there's anything that ander is using to hone his math skills, starfall has an inexpensive upgrade that allows him access to mathematical concepts and operations.  for a child who loves to memorize, maybe it's not a bad idea to work on multiplication facts now, you know?

i am happyer at home because we are able to use what works for us when it comes to learning.  we're not "package deal" kind of people; we're more "a la carte" in our learning and just about everything else in our lives.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

new book, new blog

i started reading lori pickert's book project based homeschooling and LOVE IT!

following the excellent ideas in her writings, i (finally) said "yes" to diana when she asked if she could create her own blog.  she drove this creation while i navigated and offered insight and suggestions, much like i got from suzie and lisa when i attended their "elements of blogging" class and started my own blog several months ago.

so here it is, diana's blog.  please go visit her and comment.  she would love some enthusiastic support.  and readers.  and some ideas on how to go about publishing her fantasy book, clock of fate.

i am SO happyer at home today because of what i was able to do - at home - for my little learner!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

county fair

this year, the kids and i did something completely different at the yolo county fair.  we bypassed the animals, the displays, even the vendors in favor of the midway.  we had been listening to jim weiss' reading of good luck duck and ander was hoping to meet the ferris man and ride the ferris wheel and meet the peanut man and get some whale-sized, elephant-sized, walrus-sized peanuts.

the midway has always freaked me out a little.  lots of noise, lights, noise, whirling things, noise, loud carnies, noise, loud music, and noise.  because of that, and the fact that neither one of my children had ever expressed any interest in doing any of the rides or the games, plus it was just way too expensive to ride anything and we definitely did not need any large stuffed anythings so we always skipped it.

we were planning to meet up with friends, though, and my children said they really, really wanted to look at the midway.  so i bought some tickets and they tried out a couple of things.  i quickly realized that i needed to get diana a wristband, thinking she would want to ride a lot more than ander.  after a short while, though, i had to get ander one, too, because he wasn't about to be left behind!

the midway still freaked me out, so we bypassed most of the crazy, loud, super twirly, scary-looking things and went to the relatively calmer, mostly-kids rides.  i was stunned by ander's willingness to try out so many different rides, but i guess i shouldn't have been surprised, given his proclivity for spinning and being way, way up high and wanting to move quickly.

this is a spinning dragon that then moves around in a circle.  i have vague recollections of being young and riding in the mad hatter teacups at king's island in ohio with my dad, who sagely guided me to stare right into the center wheel as he spun us at dizzying speeds.  i don't recall being ill afterwards, but i must have been ok, since i did it more than once.  you could not pay me to ride on something like that now.  thank goodness for a mama friend who was willing to go on this with ander.

fun for everyone on the carousel
he's always wanted to be in the driver's seat...
...and to ride a motorcycle like his dad.
he really, really likes to fly.  this was fun, but not as much as traveling by southwest airlines to visit his grandparents in ohio earlier that week.

this was diana's favorite, the "candy train"
both kids ran to do the super slide again and again, sometimes racing each other.
he rode the dragon wagon, a little roller coaster, again and again and again.  it was easily his favorite of the whole midway.  he invited children in line to come and ride with him.  (diana would not touch this one at all, despite her brother's coaxing.)  he finally got to sit in the front and knew the whole routine.  after he was buckled in, he called out, "dragon wagon man, push the button!"
lemon shaved ice.  not as many rave reviews as the vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, but at least it was a little less drippy.

cherry shaved ice.  went down with as much gusto as the chocolate ice cream earlier in the day.
there i was, expecting sensory overload from the lights and sounds and smells and heat (it was in the high 90s when we got there in the early afternoon) and nothing but sugar (lemonade, kettle corn, and root beer besides the cold treats) in our systems.  and it didn't happen, at least for the kids.

i saw things i wasn't looking for.  cooperation between brother and sister so they could both be where they wanted to on a ride and having competitions ending in smiles.  diana's gentle treatment of and willing participation with a friend's younger sibling, allowing that child to feel comfortable going on a ride without her mom.  ander's friendly invitations towards one of his friends to join him on the all the things he liked, giving her space and making sure she could enjoy herself, too.  diana's bravery in trying out the bumper cars, bolstered by the presence of her enthusiastic and supportive friends.

i wasn't looking for any of that, but i am glad i was open to the possibilities of seeing the growing independence and confidence of each of my children.  they got to do what interested them, i got to take pictures and watch their excited faces.

i have not experienced a fair in this way before.  i did not attend fairs growing up, and when i was an adult, attending the ohio state fair with my mom, we looked at the midway with a shared expression of a lack of desire for any of that and more than a hint of concern for the safety of those crazy contraptions.  instead, we watched cooking demonstrations, oohed and aahed over the impressive handiwork of needlework, eagerly anticipated the butter sculptures, ate our way through monster bowls of ice cream and hot, buttered, roasted corn on the cob, marveled at the variety of deep-fried-things-on-a-stick one could get, poured over the vendor tables, and admired the showmanship of the kids with all their animals: cows, sheep, pigs, fowl, horses, and rabbits.  when diana was very young and rode around in the stroller, i took her with me and my mom and we took in lumberjack demonstrations, displays of all kinds of produce, the livestock nursery (especially those darling little piglets all nursing happily with mama sow) and countless other things that escape my memory.

i did enjoy the sugar aspect with the kids, but i missed seeing everything else the fair has to offer besides the midway.  the grotesque vegetable competition.  the flower garden displays.  even the vendor booths.

then again, who's to say that it will be like this next time we go to a fair?  we didn't after all, ride a ferris wheel, though there were three, and we didn't find any peanuts.  so i guess we haven't done it all.  there will be new things to explore and the kids will probably have new interests.  sometime in the future they might even want to be involved in entering or showing their work for display and judging.

i am happyer at home because it is at home that i am more open to the possibilities of what can be.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

candlemaking (guest post by diana)

yesterday i made a few candles at a workshop in winters. mom wanted me to tell how i made them, and i happily agreed to do a guest post.
the workshop was in the teacher's studio. that's where she makes candles for her shop, bee happy candles. she had molds and hot beeswax ready for the class. there were shelves of candles, rows of molds, and three hot pots of melted beeswax!
so get ready to make candles!

molding wax
this is a hunk of molding wax. it is used to decorate candles with 3-d art that can't be put in the mold. decorating wax (it comes in thin sheets) is used for the same purpose.

this is an angel candle. i used a mold to make this one. the molds look really strange - like a rubber column. it has a hole in the bottom where a piece of wick comes through. there is a bundle of wick outside of the mold and one of the ends comes through the hole, up into the mold, and is secured by a pin across the top of the hole where the wax is poured in. once you pour wax into the hole, you wait until the wax is fully dry and then pull out the pin. then pull the candle out and cut the wick on the bottom and top. finished!

this egg was pre-made so we could decorate them right then. i used decorating wax (see 'molding wax,') and created a septimus heap egg. then, when i was done decorating, i dipped it in a pan of wax to put a protective coating on it. finished!

acorn (large)
this was another molded candle. the way i did two colors was this: i first poured in the top of the candle (or, moldwise, the bottom,) and waited until it was half-dry. then i poured in the top color and let it all dry. then i pulled it out and finished!

acorn (small)
this is another bi-colored acorn. i always get this candle all the time whenever i go to her shop, so i was very excited to choose the exact colors of the acorn and actually make it myself!

how to make tapers (makes 2)
1. cut a piece of wick a few inches longer than twice the length of a taper.
2. fold the wick in half.
3. dip the wick in a pot of melted beeswax.
4. scrape drips off bottom.
5. repeat steps 3 and 4 until tapers are preferred thickness.
tip: don't worry if the drips dry, there's no wick in the drips so you can just cut them off.
tip: don't worry if the tapers dry while you are still making them. it's actually better if they do that.
 happy candlemaking!

unconference weekend, day 2

nothing says adventure like carpooling.  given the right people and the right vehicle, road trips can be awesome!

in this case, the right people were jen, sela, and linus, and the right vehicle was theirs.  mamas up front, boys in the middle, girls in the back.  something for everyone.  especially dutch brothers (boys have smoothies, girls have not-so-hot-chocolate, mamas get their caffeine fix of choice.  thanks, steve, for my gift card!)

unconference weekend continued with a trip to the bay area discovery museum.  it was magical!  i can't believe we hadn't been there before!  (actually, it's because i get cranky driving all the way to san francisco, especially by myself, and i know that with a largish museum, both of my children would want to see and do different things and i could not accommodate all of that so i tend to avoid those kinds of situations.  since there was another adult present to help mind our offspring and diana is fairly self-sufficient and could go off to explore with sela, i could stay with ander and things could work out for the best.)
view of ander's beloved golden gate bridge from the decks of the museum

i love it when stores have a play area.  when ander picks something up and asks to play with it, i can say "yes" rather than "no, honey, we're not buying that and opening the package."  he loves playing with thomas trains but does not ask to "take them home" and opted instead for a very cool fire truck with a mega-extending ladder with a bucket at the end.

shopping in the gift store first is sometimes a good idea.  then there's no rush at the end of the visit, and one can spend the entire time being happy with one's well-thought-out, non-rushed purchase.
this is one of the very few places ander spent time indoors.  water tables are awesome, especially when there are materials to build boats of your own imagination, an option to add wind, and no instructions to tell you how to do any of it.  the kids can figure that out all on their own, thank you very much.  the signage is for the adults to read while they are standing back and giving kids plenty of room to play.
bamboo boat makes cool sounds when you stomp on it.  the rigging has bells.  the bucket onboard has little drums.

rather than being in one large building, this museum has several separate units, each with a theme.  i love the use of stumps as seats for drawing on chalk slates.  and drawing on the ground is fine, too.  art and inspiration can strike anywhere.  it's important to have tools at hand.
construction zone!  wonderfully ground gravel, perfectly-sized tools.  funnels, dump trucks, and lots of open space.

easily ander's favorite of the day.  up the rope ladder, down the rope ladder.  inviting new friends to check out the view.

ahoy, mateys!

sunken treasure
i've got the music in me!

so that's what hatches in a nest like this!
we didn't even make it over here to explore.  i so want to go into the dark seclusion of the twisted branch caves.

another fabulous use of stumps.  much more fun and eye-pleasing than stairs.
naturally, it was hard to pull ourselves away when the museum closed.  a yummy dinner (pasta, however you like it) took the edge off, and it was a pleasant drive home.

successful weekend.  i wanted something as a substitute for the community feeling we get at our homeschool conference - this really worked for me.  the kids got an adventure with their friends, the mamas had heartfelt discussions during the drives and strengthened our connections with each other.

i think we need to do this more often.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

family camp

the kids and i went to wohelo family camp.

we'd only been camping together once before.  that was as a family of four and it involved overnights.  i figured i could handle a day camp with the two kids myself.  we knew others who were coming and everything was organized for us - all we needed to do was get there and bring our lunches.

it was a beautiful drive to camp gold hollow near grass valley/nevada city.  the kids were none too pleased to have to get up so early, but they were engaged by the beautiful scenery once we turned north off I-80: rolling hills, tall trees, grazing animals, and construction vehicles galore.

ander gets anxious about new situations (a little like his mama), and though i explained what we'd be doing, he needed to get the lay of the land on his own.  fortunately, this camp experience was carefully and deliberately planned to allow for individual needs and differences within a larger group setting.  as long as we followed the camp rules and practiced safety, we could participate in the ways that were most comfortable for us.  diana happily went with our friend alice to familiarize herself with the grounds, while ander and i meandered and explored on our own.
towards the waterfront
field games area
campfire (for closing songs)
towards arts & crafts
finding his own pathway up to the lodge, saying to himself, "i can do it"
after group introductions and locating our camp guide, diana glommed onto another family who had a 9-year-old daughter and a younger brother, and the two girls stuck together most of the day.  that worked well for everyone, as diana was interested in just about every activity offered (e.g., hiking w/ compass, nature sculptures, dreamcatchers), whereas once ander found the waterfront he flatly refused to leave it for the rest of the day.  that meant i spent more of the camp experience with ander, but it turned out ok, because diana had a great time and felt confident in her independence from me and her brother.  i didn't get pictures of her, though, except in the water.

the waterfront was marvelous.  there was plenty of shallow water for us to wade in and try to catch little fish with nets.  ander was particularly interested in the canoes and the vast expanse of water, which we likened to the great grey-green greasy limpopo river, all set about with fever trees (from rudyard kipling's the elephant's child), though it was, in fact, a little lake.

after lunch, diana completed the swim test so she could go into the deep water, but she was happiest taking ander or other younglings around in inflatable boats for excursions in the shallow area.
we all got to canoe!  oh, that was lovely.  walter was our guide, first taking me and ander, then diana.  ander was so happy to have his own paddle, dipping it in and out of the water the way we had practiced.  walter took us to a favorite spot with water lilies.  ander felt just like he was in monet's garden (after having read and watched linnea in monet's garden a number of times).

though neither of my children wanted to pull away from the water at the end of the day, we all managed to make it over to the campfire ring for a musical closing.  diana was all excited to learn and sing along, while ander did his usual thing and watched and listened intently, saving his singing for the ride home, in his sleep, and upon waking the next morning.  enthusiastic renditions of boom-a-chicka-boom and the out the window song were particularly amusing and have stuck in our heads and are now part of our daily soundtrack as we play.
feeding his body with watermelon, feeding his heart and head with music
both kids asked if we could come back again.  the next day.  that's the best endorsement ever for an experience like this.  if it were available, i would gladly say yes to them.

thank you to all the volunteers and organizers and everyone who made this experience possible for us.  it brought us great joy and made for wonderful memories.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

unconference weekend, day 1

this past weekend was the hsc conference in sacramento.

i attended an afternoon of it two years ago and liked it so much that i insisted that the whole family attend last year and stay at the hotel, which we did.  it was a blast!

this year, though, with the change in family availability (i.e. steve's across the country), attending would mean that i would not get to go to any of the parent workshops and probably not get to see or participate in events with diana very much.  (ander's not much for separation from me or steve in an unfamiliar place and would be understimulated to tears in a grownup workshop where he'd need to be quiet if he came with me and is not always interested in doing the same activities as his sister.)

not that i'd have much of a problem sending diana off on her own for the day to hang out with her homeschooling buddies surrounded by other fun, quirky, and participative families, exploring and interacting in a responsible and responsive environment.  heck, we all breathe a sigh of relief when the kids can go somewhere with other people and instead of the first question being, "where do you go to school?" or, "what grade are you in?" it's more along the lines of, "hey, that looks cool - can i join in?" or a simple, "hi!" or just a gentle, welcoming smile.

but we had the added complications of swim lessons and soccer.  when we did a cost-benefit analysis about attending, even for a day, we decided that it was not in the cards for us this year.

another family reflected similar sentiments to ours regarding this year's attendance.  since our girls were practically inseparable last year (they both have long hair and had a length of it braided with ribbon and tied the ends together, which drew positive comments rather than odd looks), jen and i agreed to do something out of our regular routine and do it together.  hence, our "unconference."

we both had activities on saturday morning so we started off with a visit to explorit in the afternoon.  their community science project for 2012 is "spiders in your world" and we had so much fun with the activities last month, we had to come back again.  it's even more fun to explore with friends.  

handprint spider art
investigating the "ballooning" of spiders with compressed air tubes
that's me, holding an arizona blond tarantula
there's jen, holding a ball python
making edible spiders.  ander preferred to make his, then remove the legs and eat the body
the girls crafting their adorable arachnids

catching "food" like a spider's silk would
outdoor play time was as much fun as indoors.  an unexpected bonus - miss becky from lab rat academy was on hand to lead a spider safari around the grounds.

after the building closed, we spent a good deal of time enjoying the unseasonably cool, breezy, positively delightful weather.  then dinner at paesano's in davis, where the kids got plates of raw dough to play with while we waited and i had the most outstanding pan roasted cauliflower with paparadelle, bacon, arugula, and asparagus in a tomato butter sauce with feta cheese.  awe-some!!!!

the "boys" at dinner
i am happyer at home because we have some outstanding friends who were willing to have this unconference adventure with us.  on to day 2...