Wednesday, May 4, 2016

All of Our Favorite Things for May

This isn't, like, one of those recurring list things, or at least, I don't think it is. I just have a bunch of random favorites that I've been wanting to tell you about!

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson

Our university's theatre department did a production of this, and Matt and I went to it. If you're into Hamilton, or politics, or punk, or emo, or you don't understand what the deal is with Donald Trump, then you totally have to find a way to see this. Andrew Jackson actually makes quite a convincing emo rock star, but unlike Hamilton, he's not actually redeemable, so there's an extra tension running throughout the entire show.

I actually started this series on audiobook over a year ago, then had to return it to the library but couldn't forget about it, so when I was browsing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy shelves a few weeks ago to help Will find books (have I mentioned yet that Will is now choosing books from the adult section of the library? She's read everything in the children and teen sections already!), I snatched all three and then didn't put them down until I'd finished.

Without spoiling what happens, I'll just tell you that the books take place in the near future, where people have realized that our society's obsession with germs and hygiene has destroyed our immune systems. To solve this problem, a company creates a genetically-altered tapeworm that will both correct this and can be also administer long-term medications for problems like diabetes or high blood pressure.

What could possibly go wrong?

And that's about where chapter one begins.

Minecraft servers

Syd has discovered them, and they're apparently pretty great. Her favorite server is Planet Minecraft, with its minigames, and she will often spend her precious screentime after school helping Team Frost to victory in paintball, or that weird jumping game, or all those other games whose rules I can't figure out.

I was impressed that Syd managed to figure out how to get herself onto these servers all by herself (thank you, Instructables!), since she often uses helplessness as a defense mechanism when she doesn't want to do something, ie. "Oh, subtraction! But I can't subtract! I can't subtract a single thing! Is nine minus five sixty-seven? See, I just can't do it! It's impossible," and on and on and on. I've also started checking out some Minecraft manuals for her from the library, things like how to do mods or images of notable constructions, and she's begun to talk about these great engineery things, like how to program Redstone to make a trapdoor that will drop you into lava, and how to booby-trap your treasure chest. 

Spoiler alert: it involves more lava.

I have wanted to find a kid-friendly current events for YEARS. I was all about News-O-Matic for a little while, but it just wasn't updated often enough, and it didn't have enough NEWS news, if that makes sense. Basically, I wanted news that didn't cover rapes and murders and other scary things, but did cover politics and wars and international affairs. I just couldn't seem to find the perfect combination, until I happened upon CNN Student News. Every weekday, they post a ten-minute news video that's kid-friendly, but does cover politics and wars and international affairs. They've got science features, and human interest stories, and interesting tech updates, and the host ends every video with something ridiculous, like a million puns based on the last news clip. He cracks us up every. Single. Time.

So fair warning--Matt HATES this Youtube channel, but for some reason I cannot stop watching this woman! I was drinking wine and surfing Youtube one night--you know, as you do--and somehow I ended up watching a twenty-minute video of a woman sitting on her kitchen floor, bawling her eyes out, and explaining all about how her boyfriend had broken up with her. Friends, I could not look away! Also, she said ALL the things. So many details. So much awkward. And sometimes, she would just stop talking and just sob openly into the camera for minutes at at time. It was one of the craziest things that I have ever seen on Youtube, and that's including the fact that every single time I'm on Youtube, I end up watching videos about the Illuminati or aliens. Seriously, I'll start off by searching for cat videos and end up learning about how they're a conspiracy by the Illuminati to send messages to our alien overlords. And still, this Youtube channel is crazier.

Anyway, she later deleted this specific video, but it turns out that she's somewhat of a thing on Youtube, and you can find OTHER people making OTHER videos that discuss that one and try to dissect the truth behind it... you know, like if it was maybe aliens or Illuminati. Something like that. And she posts, like every day, a ten-minute video of her babbling on while she's driving in her car, or these awkward dance performances, or a round-up of her various "routines," which all seem to involve a lot of Starbucks and Red Vines and professional make-up artists. She's definitely not for kids, and based on the fact that she also has a channel of videos of her eating stuff that I'm 100% sure is something sexual, she's really probably not for most adults, either, but somehow watching her makes me feel better. The past year or so had been hard for me in a lot of ways--in fact, I've had the kind of year that's often like a kick to the stomach, and that has me deeply questioning whether or not I have the emotional coping skills to deal with it, and while watching this chick is not, I'd say, emotionally healthy by any means, it is somehow very comforting to watch this cheerful, peppy, duck-lipped woman just go ahead and fly her freak flag every single day like it ain't no thang.

Will is obsessed with this Youtube channel, which is really just a series of commercials for the online store, but man, are they clever commercials! Again, they are not for little kids, as this very disturbing/very funny commercial for a toy gummy bear anatomy kit can attest, but the entire family will often get sucked into watching them with Will, and now we're all in research mode for how to make our own giant gummies.

Okay, enough randomness! The cat is putting muddy pawprints onto the paperwork on my desk, the kids need me to cook them egg sandwiches and dial up CNN Student News, and I have an, I kid you not, 21-item to-do list for Syd's Minecraft birthday party on Friday, and I just decided to add another couple of items to it, as I suddenly thought that wouldn't it be even cuter if the spawn eggs in the Spawn Egg Hunt were actually cascarones, and then the kids could have a cascarone fight afterwards!

I'll be sure to let you know how that, and the cardboard box Creeper pinata, and the Minecraft cake, and Zombie Tag, and the paint-your-own-Minecraft-sword station turn out!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of May 2, 2016: Minecraft, Ballet, and the Bay

For all the griping that I did about the fact that last week was soooooo busy, you'd think that I'd have learned my lesson this week.

But nope. We're busy this week, too. Or, at least, one little kid in particular is very, very, VERY busy this week, and the rest of us are simply going to be pulled along in her wake. Our Syd, you see, has a big ballet recital this weekend, which means that she has big ballet rehearsals almost every night this week. Our Syd also has a big birthday this week--double digits!

And our Syd ALSO has a big birthday PARTY this week!!!

Fortunately, as busy as we were last week, we also had a fine time together, getting all the scheduled schoolwork done, having plenty of time to relax and play, and getting plenty of play-time with friends in. The kids really embraced their Projects of the Week (Syd worked hard on a painting of a horse, and Will drew a different dragon every single day--I think they're liking their weekend art lessons with their father!)--

--they made a quiche that nobody would eat but the chickens (have to try that particular cooking lesson again...), they made some pretty great paper models of crystal formations, we completed our unit on Alcatraz so that we're ready to start learning about the California coastline this week (also? Our Escape from Alcatraz LARPing was awesome!!!), and we finished Making Thirteen Colonies (below, Syd is making a map of the slave trade route)--

--so that this week, we are officially beginning the Revolutionary War part of our Revolutionary War study.

Instead of a Project of the Week, I'll be asking the kids to help me get ready for Syd's birthday party every day--there's so much to be done, from making the pinata and the cake to tidying up the yard to inventing some party games to setting up the crafts to making party favors. The Open-Ended Play Material of the Week last week, the Lite Brite, had a missing bulb, so we're trying that again this week, now that it's nice and bright again. Books of the Week include some colonial and Revolutionary War-era fiction, a couple of books about monuments we'll likely see in Washington, DC, and a couple of books on California, which the kids are visiting this summer but I'm not, and Alaska, which I'm visiting this summer but they're not! In particular, Syd really likes A-Z Mysteries, so I was excited to assign her Operation Orca, which takes place in Alaska.

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: Will blew through the end of her Math Mammoth unit last week, so this week she's starting ratios. Syd, although she had mastered all of the work in her Math Mammoth unit, totally bombed the review, mostly because if she couldn't remember right away how to work a particular problem, rather than think about it she instead pitched an hour-long fit. So she's got a couple of drill worksheets on the Order of Operations on this day, to help her remember that it's NOT "multiplication and addition, then division and subtraction."

I don't know exactly what the kids will see and do in California, but we're making a list together of all the things that they'd like to see and do--the list, of course, is FAR longer than they can ever possibly complete while there--and on that list is the Junior Ranger badges for all the national parks within driving distance of their grandparents' home. I've developed week-long studies for each site, and as part of the national park studies, I'm having the kids complete what they can of each Junior Ranger book at home. They'll bring the half-completed books with them to California, and complete them at any national parks that they visit. What they don't complete, they can bring home, finish using the national parks' websites, and then mail in. On this day, then, they're working on the Junior Ranger books for the San Francisco Maritime National Park.

We're finally starting our Revolutionary War textbook spine this week! The kids still haven't completely memorized the thirteen original colonies, so we'll read just the preface to From Colonies to Country on this day, and then I expect them to get those darn colonies down! Also in the preface is an allegorical poem about the Boston Tea Party, and copying that poem every day is both kids' cursive work for the week, with a small cash prize for also memorizing the poem.

At our volunteer gig at the local food pantry today, do not let me forget to scavenge ALL THE BOXES! We've still got to make a Minecraft pinata, AND the Minecraft swords for the sword-painting station, and surely something else--you can never have enough cardboard at a birthday party!

I lost track last week with the kids' Wordly Wise, so I'm not sure who needs to spend another week on spelling, and who's ready to move on to the next chapter. I'll figure that out on this day, and then a library workshop and an evening ballet rehearsal complete the day!

TUESDAY: I couldn't find any good worksheets for drilling fractional parts problems for Syd, so I made one for her. Will, though, will be tooling along as usual in Math Mammoth. In the biome brochure project, though, it's Syd who's flying through and Will who's struggling, primarily because she doesn't see art as her strong suit, so she'd like to do a half-assed job and then get back to her book. The kids worked on their brochures some over the weekend, as part of their art lesson with Matt, so really just need to add some more research and a few final touches on this day. And Will needs to maybe delete the parts that she put in about "land sharks" on her Ocean biome brochure. I say maybe, though, because the land shark parts are funny!

Both kids read SO much, but Will, especially, rarely discusses the books that she reads with me. She flies through them, piles them up, and flies through some more, all in a single day, so much so that I can tell where she's been by the piles of books that she leaves behind her like scat in the woods. On this day, then, I'm going to pry out of her a detailed review of at least one book that she's read lately! The plan is to let the kids watch some episodes of Reading Rainbow (or at least Syd, since I think she's the one who's really going to enjoy that), and then have them compose a book review of their own. The emphasis is on composition, here, so they can choose to dictate the review to me, if they wish.

I am REALLY excited about our California coastline lesson on this day! All of the lessons in this week's unit are adapted from the curriculum materials on the site. We'll be reading and discussing the various geographical features of a coastline, and then the kids will be researching, writing definitions for, and modeling four of those geographical features. They're going to model them using LEGOs, and on Wednesday, we're going to put the models into water and explore how sailors might have experienced them. In other words, we're going to float corks, make waves, and blow on the water through straws. It's going to be a good time for all.

Our homeschool group's playgroup on this day, and ballet rehearsal for Syd, and fencing class for me and Will should round things out nicely. Oh, and I have to vote!

WEDNESDAY: The poll that the kids administered for their election unit ("What's your favorite animal?") went so well that I'm going to go back and have the kids review our previous lessons using this topic. We've already explored campaign advertisements, so on this day, the kids will create some campaign advertisements for their preferred animal. Campaign posters first, and then we might do video ads in a couple of weeks, as there will be a bit of a lag in our election study after all the primaries are finished.

Syd is starting a geometry unit on this day, and although Euclid: The Game might be too hard for her, she often surprises me with her engineer's mind. Hopefully, Will will take to it, as well--if they both do, they'll have quite the geometry education under their belts before they know it!

Syd and I BOTH have ballet rehearsal on this night--Syd for herself, of course, but me as a parent volunteer for the littlest dancers. Syd has already informed me that they are "very naughty," sigh...

THURSDAY: I'd thought that we would examine and classify our completed crystals last week, but the paper models took a really long time for the kids to construct, so we'll be examining them on this day, instead. And I might have us spend another couple of weeks on mineral crystals, as well, before we move on, just because now that we're finally in the rocks and minerals part of our rocks and minerals unit, might as well stay here and enjoy ourselves, you know?

The kids seem to be more into the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Notebook these days, or at least they both completed the next lesson without complaint, and Will even happily shared hers with me. Their stories are shaping up to be VERY creative!

Our last lesson for our San Francisco Maritime National Park unit is the anatomy of the Spanish galleon. The curriculum materials include a pretty detailed illustration of a Spanish galleon that I'm going to print onto cardstock, then have the kids color, assemble, and label. We'll discuss it, and likely watch some Youtube videos of galleons in action. The kids will see more, of course, if they get to the park during their California trip. We haven't *really* explored the history of shipping and sailing on its own, but thanks to our study of Columbus and his ships in the fall, after this lesson we'll know about Spanish caravels, carracks, AND galleons! And I know that we'll be studying more ships for our New England trip this fall, as well.

FRIDAY: This day is Syd's birthday! Normally, the birthday kid gets to plan all of our meals and activities for the day, but since Syd's birthday party is also on this day, we'll of course have to curtail that somewhat in order to prepare for the party. Mean, sneaky Momma to get all this birthday business out of the way all in a single day, mwa-ha-ha!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Our weekend is mostly ballet-centric, culminating in Syd's big spring ballet recital on Sunday. And after that, our most time-intensive extracurricular will be over until September!!!!!!! Now we can start planning some weekend camping trips!

What do YOU have planned for this week?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Girl Scouts Love Ice Cream. Chaos Ensues.

Seriously, this week has been made of chaos. It started out crazy, to be sure, but then got completely thrown off the rails on Monday night, when I got a text from the children's pediatric dentist's office reminding me of their appointments at the CRACK OF FREAKING DAWN on the next day! I always forget the spring dentist appointments, because I never have my next year's planner in October when we have our fall dentist appointments.

Mental note: Buy my next year's planner in early October.

Anyway, there was the dentist, and then afterwards there was the hours-long saga of trying to get passport applications in. I say "trying," because after all that, we were still only able to get Matt's and my passport applications in, not the kids'. Did you know that you can't pay for a passport application with your credit card, and also that the applications are reeeeeeaaallly expensive, so you 100% don't have that amount of cash on you? I had to drive across town and back to get the checkbook. Also, you have to pay for each application with its own check! This information only came AFTER I'd driven across town and back. Guess how many checks that I had left in that checkbook?


And? AND?!? I'm just going to go ahead and tell you this, so that when I'm in federal prison you'll know why, but the post office worker basically told me to lie on my passport application. Why on earth I have to write down the birth dates and places of my mother and father I do not know, but I left some of that info blank, because I do not know it, and when the postal worker told me that I HAD to write the information down, and I told her that I had no way of getting it, she said, and I quote, "You just have to write it down to the best of your knowledge."

I said, "So I should write down information that, to the best of my knowledge, could be my birth father's date and place of birth, simply because nobody ever specifically told me that what I'm writing down isn't his date and place of birth?"

She smiled at me like, "Good job!", and that's how I lied on my passport app. Whatever, federal government.

Let's just fast-forward, then, to the two, count them TWO tornado warnings that went off during our one-hour fencing lesson that night. I was already out of sorts because the fencing instructor had us play a "game" earlier that is, I swear to god, the worst thing that I have ever been required to play. We divide into two groups and sit on our butts on either side of the gym. A fencing glove goes in the middle. We each, on each side, have a number. The instructor stands in the middle of the gym like a giant asshole and taunts us by saying sentences that hide numbers in them in douchey ways, like "I am going to the store."

There's a two in there, get it?

Ugh, right?!? I am dying just having to tell you this.

So anyway, when the instructor says your number, you--and the person with the same number on the other side of gym--run for the stupid fucking fencing glove, and snatch it, and run back to your stupid fucking spot, except that whoever doesn't get to the glove first can still CHASE DOWN the person who got the glove and tag them.


The first time my number was called, I bolted across the gym, grabbed that fucking glove, and started running back to my spot, and then the little kid who also had my number--oh, because all the other students other than me are CHILDREN, have I mentioned that?--tagged me. I lost my head a little, and I lunged for the little bastard, and the instructor was all, "Whoah! Whoah!", and I was all, "Oh, are we not allowed to tag back?" all innocently, when everyone in that entire gym knew that I'd been about to tackle that kid to the ground.

For the rest of the game, whenever my number was called, I'd act like I was totally getting up to run my heart out, but then I'd just kind of jog a couple of steps and go sit back down. Like, I'm willing to be pretty chill with all the other kids in these fencing classes, but the fact of the matter is that I am practically 40 years old, and if I don't want to play chase and tag and find the hidden numbers with a bunch of children, then I am not going to. They've got my money already, and I know that fat check that I wrote wasn't made out to "Middle School Gym Class."

I maybe feel a *little* bad about how bad for morale I was, because maybe I heckled just a little, but eh. It was a terrible game.

So of COURSE neither of the two tornado warnings could have happened while I was reliving my worst memories of adolescence (did anyone like junior high gym class?!?), but instead they both happened during the actual fencing instruction. We'd just gotten started on beat attacks and then boom, off went the tornado sirens. We threw off our masks and trooped down the stairs, sweaty and irritated. At the bottom of the stairs, a guy in the epee class turned left to go out the door to his car, presumably, instead of right to go into the interior hallway, and all the kids behind him started to follow him. So then I have to shout, "No, no, children! We don't go out into tornadoes!" Instead, the other three girls in the class and I for some reason scrunch ourselves into the safest alcove, declare it off-limits to "boys," and sit, knees together, and bond for twenty minutes. We make fun of the kindergarten artwork. We make fun of the epee fencers. We theorize about the coming tornadopacalypse. The two girls who aren't Willow try to explain to me about Kool-aid commercials--did you know that the Kool-aid man is STILL A THING?!? You know, the giant anthropomorphized pitcher of Kool-aid? And he's still a creeper! The girls both began to describe, in elaborate detail, a commercial in which the Kool-aid man is jumping on a trampoline, and LIQUID SPLASHES OUT OF HIS HEAD.

At this point in the day, I am pretty much hysterical with exhaustion, and I cannot stop laughing at this image. The girls agree that it's funny, but hey, Lady, it's not *that* funny. One of the girls asks, "Is it because you think it's something perverted? Do you think it's--" and I immediately slap my hands over my ears and shout, "Do not finish that sentence! I cannot legally listen to you finish that sentence!"

Seriously, middle schoolers are off the freaking hook.

During our next interlude in the basement hallway, because of course there was another one, I focused the conversation on the adorable backpack and light jacket that the other girl had rescued from her stuff on the way down. Lots of things that one can do with an adorable backpack and light jacket if one is hit by a tornado. One could make a roof to pad us from the debris falling on our heads. One could rescue kittens, if there were kittens in the Boys and Girl Club, which there are not. One could carry one's fingers that were severed by flying glass.

Middle schoolers. I tell you what.

Fortunately, the rest of the evening merely involved Will and I walking a couple of city blocks in a downpour with no protective gear (what we would have done for light jackets!), and although we also spent most of the day outside in the rain today, as well, I am happily now warm and dry, except for my feet, which are always cold, and I have a cat on my shoulders, and I'm ready to tell you about what I logged into Blogger to tell you in the first place, which is this ice cream trip that Matt and I took the kids to the other day.

Ah, now I remember that I ended up on the subject of my chaotic week in general because this trip was also surprisingly chaotic. Normally, Girl Scout trips are run reasonably well, and this one promised to be as well-run as they come, since we'd received an email itinerary of the event that informed us that we'd be divided into two groups, one of whom would enjoy the make-your-own-sundae bar first while the other group went on a guided tour of the historic ice cream parlor and residence. Then we'd switch. Gold standard group field trip organization.

Except that when we got to the ice cream parlor, an hour's drive away, I was greeted with my worst nightmare of event organization: a couple of teenagers in uniform, looking worried and befuddled. They were standing behind the counter where the make-your-own-sundae bar was, and after several families sat down and smiled politely and waited patiently for a while, one of the teenagers ventured, "Um, you can come make your sundaes now, if you want."

"Uh-oh," I said to Matt. "They don't know that we're supposed to divide into groups. Should I tell them?"

"Don't get involved," Matt advised.

"Bystander defense!" Will piped up immediately. She is always super helpful in any difficult situation.

I didn't get involved, but I watched with a worried eye as I otherwise happily shoveled in ice cream sundae that the line for the make-your-own-sundae bar was getting longer and longer and more and more chaotic. All the seats were full of people eating ice cream, and still the people came. Twice as many people as the room would hold--DUH!--filed in, as the panicked workers continually resupplied the sundae bar and looked stressed out.
The ice cream, though, was freaking amazing.
There was SO much sticky ice cream. So much noise. And then the kids started feeling the sugar.
Got their tempers nice and sweetened!
 More noise. Some running. A little fellow sitting next to Matt was practically bathing in his ice cream. Every bite that he took was only an approximation of a bite, as most of the spoonful had rather ended up on the table, in his lap, on his face, in his hair, etc. I was consumed by the idea that this child was going to touch Matt, with his waving, sticky spoon, or his damp, sticky shirt, or his filthy, sticky face with sprinkles sticking to it. I could not relax.

And then, I kid you not, some kid crammed somewhere in the room bumped something, and an honest-to-god calliope began to play.

"I am going to die in this ice cream parlor," I said to no one.

"It could be worse," Matt cheerfully offered. "Maybe Ted Cruz is about to walk in!"

This is why he said that:

Apparently Ted Cruz had already been to our ice cream parlor that day, but what if he'd forgotten his jacket, and then he walked in and saw all these wholesome, corn-fed Girl Scouts, and wanted to take selfies or film a commercial with my children? Would I engage him in political discussion, or would I cave so that my kids could get their picture taken with a presidential candidate? What horrible things would Will say? Would Syd in fact vomit ice cream on his shirt while reporters snapped photos, and then would those photos end up on late-night TV?

That calliope was still playing, by the way.

I was worried that just as there had been 60 people eating ice cream all at once, there would also be 60 people trying to take the tour all at once, but it turned out that the ice cream parlor had decided to cancel the tour, and only one other family, along with ours, would not stand for that, so we actually got quite a lovely semi-private tour. Afterwards, we walked across the street to the giant indoor playground that is one of the greatest things about Indiana. As the kids ran around, Matt and I sat and I tried to breathe through the remains of my panic attack.

All of a sudden, though, I looked out the window and could not help myself. I shouted, "Oh, my god! There's a man on a segue walking a dog!"

And then, "Oh, oh! He's also got a kid on the segue!"

"AND a Bluetooth!"

"Hurry!" Matt insisted, "Take his picture!" He was just teasing me, but I was so worked up from the ice cream parlor chaos that I frantically grabbed up my camera and snapped a bunch of photos of this totally random, totally minding-his-own-business man:

Oh, and here's the scariest picture of all:

He is looking RIGHT AT ME! This guy can SEE me through the window of the indoor playground, and he's clearly baffled and upset, like "Why is that crazy lady papping me?"

Because I have lost my mind, that's why.

tl;dr I don't like competitive games that remind me of middle school gym class. Unorganized crowds make my skin crawl. And I have lost. My. Mind.

Oh, and I think that we're going to have our very own make-your-own sundae bar at home this weekend!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of April 25, 2016: Indiana, California, and the Thirteen Colonies

Despite the three-day school week and the lack of weekly work plans, last week was actually quite productive. We spent a couple of days in the woods, then got back in the game by catching up on the children's correspondence, working on some science projects--
The kids are attempting to crystallize epsom salts, borax, and alum, and are of COURSE making rock candy.
--completing Junior Ranger badges by mail, reading LOTS of books, working through Math Mammoth and cursive copywork, and delving deeply into a Girl Scout badge that's also secretly a cross-curricular unit study on biomes and the animals that inhabit them--
Here, they've made labels for six major biomes and are sorting animals by biome. We're using Usborne's 100 Animals to Spot at the Zoo, which is a deck that I highly recommend if your kids are studying biology or world geography.
--as well as doing all of our regular fun stuff, like hiking (we've scored a total of three morels on our various hikes last week, but also saw a rat snake digesting something nummy, a corn snake basking on a rock, and lots of frogs and fossils), baking epic baked goods--

She used three different shades of blue for these ocean cupcakes, and put a sour gummy shark on top of each.

--helping me in the garden, and, yes, reading LOTS of books.

This week, however, we're back to a full school week, albeit with one full-day field trip, so it's back to weekly work plans. For one thing, I think it's easier to structure our routine when I know by the week what we're doing each day, and for another, there are several long-term units that we're working on whose lesson plans really only work when I plan them out by the week. I've dropped our human anatomy unit for now, but we're still studying units on California, rocks and minerals, the Revolutionary War, and the 2016 elections! I've also put Project of the Week back on our schedule, even though our schedule is already pretty busy, because I think that overall, the kids enjoy working on something entirely of their own choosing for "school" each week, and because I'd like them to get used to the idea of choosing their own unit and method of study.

Books of the Week include primarily living history books on the Revolutionary War and pioneer times, but also a couple of living science books--we're into Liberal Arts AND STEM enrichment in this homeschool! The Open-Ended Play Material of the Week is the Lite Brite.

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: Normally, we're up and eating breakfast while watching CNN Student News by this time, but Syd is still snoozing, the silly girl. Interestingly, she and Will are both finishing up their Math Mammoth units this week--she in long division, and Will in exponents and the order of operations in algebraic equations. Now that Syd has mastered long division, both of these units have been pretty easy-breezy--in fact, she liked one of the lessons so much that I am now officially on the lookout for other math worksheets done in the form of cross-number puzzles. Apparently that makes drilling computation legitimately FUN!

The kids are studying the spelling of the words in their latest Wordly Wise chapter this week, and today we'll also be finishing up our listen-through of Making Thirteen Colonies, while the kids create a 3D, interactive map that shows the major routes of the slave trade. It seems like a lot of our historical and geographic studies lately have brought forward our country's tragic history with slavery, and it's a bummer, but it is something that I want to always inform the kids' understanding of our history. For instance, we've been looking a bit at the exploration of California by the Europeans, and the missionaries, in particular, and so I've already told the children several times that when they're in California this summer with their grandparents, they should be carefully on the watch for signs that claim that a certain European "discovered" a place that Native Americans had known about for thousands of years, or that a certain European "built" a structure that was likely rather built by enslaved Native Americans, etc. While I didn't necessarily agree with the premise behind every essay in Lies Across America, it has absolutely improved my ability to think critically about historical markers.

We've got our regular gig at our local food pantry this afternoon, to which the kids are also bringing their Scouting for Food food drive donations in order to earn a Girl Scout patch. We've got another Girl Scout event this evening--a tour of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and then a make-your-own sundae bar! We can't wait!

Syd is still working through the secular version of New American Cursive 2, but a couple of weeks ago, Will FINISHED Teach Yourself Cursive! And Friends, I have news: her cursive handwriting is good!!! You might remember that I despair daily over Will's print handwriting, and frankly, I can't escape the idea that her Montessori preschool/kindergarten was to blame for not providing her enough direct instruction. They had handwriting work for her to model, but it seems that for the most part the children were left to recreate those models on their own. Will worked out her own way to write all of the letters, and it's an efficient, effective, readable way, but it's not lovely. I probably should have worked with her at home, but frankly, after three hours spent at school, the last thing that I thought about doing with my five-year-old at home was more school--she was too busy rolling around outside or making toy dinosaurs roar at each other.

Anyway, blame-throwing aside, it is very important to me that she at least develop good cursive handwriting, and hallelujah, it has happened! She's still reluctant to use cursive for her daily writing, and so I'm still requiring her to practice her cursive every day as schoolwork. Currently, she's enjoying A-Z Mystery Flags, completing one page a day. After that, I'll start her on some meatier copywork that I've created with StartWrite; using Story of Us, I turned quotes from famous colonial and Revolutionary War individuals into cursive copywork. 

For the first day of our Alcatraz unit, I've printed out the Alcatraz Junior Ranger book and am asking the children to complete what they can of it at home. Pro tip: if you do not have an entire day to lollygag around a national park while your kid completes her Junior Ranger book agonizingly slowly, but with such great pleasure that you simply cannot bear to step in and rush her, printing the book out ahead of time and doing this is exactly the way to go. Most activities will likely still need to be completed on site, sure, but do you really want to spend an hour sitting on a park bench while your kid completes a maze and a word scramble and colors in a picture? Seriously, me, neither!

TUESDAY: Although the last lesson's tamale pie was acceptable, I am genuinely excited about this week's Your Kids: Cooking lesson: quiche! Learning how to make pie crust is a skill they'll be happy to have for their entire lives, and we have so many eggs that I am pretty darn excited every time we're able to get through a dozen of them in a single meal. 

I have time set aside for an Indiana history lesson on this day, but frankly, I don't yet know what I'm going to do there. I'll give a lecture that briefly covers the history of Indiana from prehistory through the Civil War, for sure, but I like to include a hands-on component to every lesson, ideally, and right now, I have no ideas. You might think that we're studying state history here because that's what fourth graders do in their schools, but I don't give a flip about state standards. Instead, we're studying state history, albeit briefly, because 2016 is Indiana's Bicentennial! On Wednesday, the kids and I will take a day trip down to Indiana's first state capital in Corydon for a day of hands-on activities for homeschoolers--we'll visit with some actors playing conductors in the Underground Railroad, learn about pioneer farming, tour the capitol building, make some crafts, and hopefully my two children will be able to raise their hands high to answer any questions asked about Indiana history.

We've got our homeschool group's playgroup on this day, as well as a children's cooking class at our food pantry--word on the street is that one of the children's friends will be leading this day's class on the topic of wild edibles. Dandelion greens for dinner!

WEDNESDAY: FIELD TRIP!!! We always have an audiobook in the car, and currently, it's Forge. I'm hoping that we can finish Forge on this trip, however, because I REALLY want to get started on Al Capone Does My Shirts while we're still in this week's Alcatraz unit. The kids' grandparents Skyped them last night and told them that they'd already gotten tickets for their Alcatraz tour this summer!

THURSDAY: Before we pick back up with our Earth science textbook, I want to spend one more lesson talking about crystal structure. We have several Petri dishes of crystals that we started growing last week that we can examine, and I'll be printing out these paper models for the kids to construct. The textbook that we're using is for upper middle school, but I've found that it works for us as long as I'm careful to also talk through the topics and add in lots more hands-on activities. After this extra enrichment on crystals, we'll be ready to pick back up with the textbook next week.

I should probably be doing the same for the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Workbook, but honestly, the only reason that I chose that particular writing curriculum is that I need *something* that's grab-and-go for a change. The kids would probably enjoy it more if I put more effort into making sure that they did, but they're carrying on, regardless, and if necessary I can remember that our next writing curriculum needs to be more teacher-engaged. Sigh...

The kids' Math Mammoth is also meant to be grab-and-go, but even when the kids are happily zooming through a particular unit, as they are right now, I simply will not shake my deep conviction that math should be hands-on. It should be sensorial. It should be something whose processes you understand, not simply something whose rules of calculation you follow. Last week, when Will began exponents, I showed her how cool square and cubed numbers are (they MAKE squares and cubes!), and so on this day, the kids will be working with some square number models that Matt created for me in Adobe InDesign. It's going to be really, really awesome.

FRIDAY: It took a lot longer for the kids to administer their poll than I thought that it would, but finally, this Friday they should be ready to compile and evaluate the results. I think that they're going to discover some really interesting things about how polls work and what they are--and are NOT--able to tell us.

Our Alcatraz unit is less involved than some of our other California units, as I mostly just want the children to know its history so that they get more out of their trip. To that end, I'll be having them read an informative article on the history of Alcatraz, written for their age range, and then answer some reading comprehension questions from the article. It will be good practice in reading non-fiction in order to learn specific facts, something that most people do multiple times a day. At some point this week, Matt, who's our resident history buff, is also going to give us all a lecture on the history of Alcatraz; his lectures are always a big hit, and always inspire the kids to ask great questions and participate in some really great discussions.

I feel a little guilty about focusing so much on Syd's Girl Scout badges lately, as she already has earned more badges than Will, but the fact is that Syd's Junior Animal Habitats badge is an excellent cross-curricular unit study on biomes, animal biology, and the environment, and it's worth spending the time on. Last week, the kids watched several BrainPop videos about biomes and then did an animal sort, and on this day I plan to have them focus on one single biome each, researching it and creating an informative brochure on it. Perhaps we'll get it printed when they're done!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Lots of ballet! A student-choreographed modern dance recital at our local university, one that has proven year after year to be VERY weird! I've dropped art as a weekly lesson, because Matt has taken up the task of giving the kids an art lesson every weekend, so there's that. I'm also attempting to create some kind of LARP Alcatraz game, perhaps something with Matt and I as guards and the children as prisoners who have to escape, and hijinks ensue, and that will hopefully happen this weekend.

Stay tuned!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Car Camping, Because We Win at Life

On Monday night, filthy and sitting by a campfire that my kids had built (I provided the cigarette lighter), drinking homebrew that Betsy's husband had made, chatting with other adults whom I genuinely like and who like me back, I thought to myself, "Hey, I am officially the type of person who goes camping with my friends!"

Life just keeps getting better and better, am I right?

I have no shame in admitting that while I went camping as a teenager with my JROTC group, with someone else handling all the infrastructure, and while I went camping as an adult before marriage and kids, with my only concerns being a tent, a sleeping bag, some friends and some liquor, I have never gone camping as an adult with kids. Kids who need to eat regular meals (and snacks, and more meals, and more snacks, and more meals just after you've cleaned up the previous meal, etc.). Kids who will whine and throw a fit if they're cold or tired or hungry--always hungry! Kids who need sunscreen and bugspray regularly applied, and who need their shoulders watched for pink and their armpits checked for ticks. I was a little nervous to camp with them, without my co-parent in residence, but hell--worst case scenario, town was just an hour away.

In any case, I needn't have worried. Kids are surprisingly resilient in the woods, and having other families with you makes for a helpful tribe who is more than a match for keeping a bunch of kids safe and happy and fed.

She sketched the dam using mud and a stick. My little artistic genius!
A dead tree fell over in our backyard during a windstorm a couple of weeks ago, conveniently allowing us to bring loads of super-dry wood for our campfires. In related news, Will also found an old snake's nest below that tree, with over twenty hatched eggs!
I bought the kids this portable hammock for Christmas, and it is the best. Thing. EVER.
very interesting rock, brought to me for inspection and admiration
On the second night of our trip, the kids asked if we could host the community campfire at our campsite. There's something to be said for having ownership of the flames, you know! The kids did the entire fire business all by themselves, and Syd even baked everyone doughboys, a recipe that she learned at Girl Scout camp.
See? Safe and happy and fed!

I'd thought that I was going camping for the kids' benefit, because I didn't realize how much I, personally, would enjoy all of this communal, social time with my adult friends. It wasn't quite perfect without Matt there, but still, having entire days of leisure just to hang out with and chat with other friendly adults, and eating yummy food with them (and by yummy, you of course realize that I mean half-charred, half cold sausages stuck on a stick), and hiking around in the woods with them.

It wasn't perfect without Matt, but it was still bliss.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pom-Pom Pals: Our Obsession Begins

As of now, knowing what I know, having done what I have done, I cannot fathom how, until last week, I have NEVER made a pom pom by hand. 

I mean, what?

I LOVE making stuff by hand! I LOVE quick and easy little crafties! I love cute little crafties! I love kid-friendly little crafties!

Friends, how have I NEVER made pom poms before, and even more outrageously, how have I NEVER introduced the children to pom pom making before?!?

Fortunately, as of last week, that has all been rectified. A publicist sent me a free copy of Pom-Pom Pals: Animals, and as the kids and I are winging our homeschool for these couple of short weeks (grandparent visits, big fashion shows, and a multi-day camping trip with friends have been keeping us quite busy without my set-in-stone by-the-week lesson plans, thank you very much), one day last week it, along with a documentary on the brown bear of Alaska, a Math Mammoth lesson and some cursive copywork, a couple of books about rocks, and a long hike through our woods to hunt for morels seemed like just the way to spend our school day.

It's not often that we start a craft with me just as ignorant about how it's done as the kids, and it was fun to see them read the instructions, more or less, grab the yarn, and set off making pom poms without looking to me for direction:

Syd let me help her make one of the pom poms for her lion--

--but Will worked completely independently the entire time--

--taking breaks only to snuggle the cat:

I mean, of course.

We actually don't work with yarn that often, which made this particular project much more of a process-based, explore-the-yarn-and-all-its-possibilities project than one in which a specific result must be obtained, and yet, with the addition of hot glue and felt and more miniature pom poms--

 --adorable results were obtained:

We spent part of today making more pom poms, just for fun--

--and I have to say that when I searched Pinterest for "pom pom crafts," because of COURSE I searched Pinterest for "pom pom crafts!!!", I found so many ridiculously cute things to do with them that I see no reason to ever stop making pom poms.

In fact, I kinda hope to make it to the craft store this weekend to buy yarn in Girl Scout colors, because I'm thinking pom pom hair bands would look SUPER cute with their Girl Scout uniforms, right?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Homeschool STEM Fair 2016: The Kid Built a Table

The main reason why I wanted to host a STEM Fair for our homeschool group, rather than a Science Fair, is the options. Kids could do a typical science project, but they could also do something with engineering, technology, or math. I already encourage the kids to interpret the theme as broadly as they'd like, in order to make the fair as accessible as possible to the wide variety of homeschooling kids who we have in our community, and so when Syd said that she wanted to build a table as her STEM Fair project, I didn't even blink.

You probably know by now that when this kid makes a plan, she makes a PLAN! There is a detailed vision behind everything that she creates, whether it's a four-page itinerary for her birthday party or a full-color, multi-sketch mock-up of a dress design. You shouldn't be surprised, then, that Syd's table design was impeccable. I'll let her tell you about it, but be assured, before you hear her build notes, that she came up with this design completely on her own, and built it, other than asking for some assistance with figuring out the drill, completely on her own:

And yes, I DID carry that table back and forth from the car, across the library, weaving my way carefully through the security gate, and into the conference room where the STEM Fair was held.

But back to the kid--isn't that table incredible? I let her pick out exactly the lumber that she wanted from the hardware store, and her speech doesn't lie--she knew exactly what she wanted, in exactly those lengths, and she sat there on the garage floor and fiddled around with layout until she discovered, completely on her own, how to screw the table planks onto the end supports and then the table legs onto that. It was cold outside, though, so I let her do the actually construction in the family room:

I mean, we still have sawdust everywhere from the construction of the built-in shelves, so why not?

This table now stands outside on the back deck, and is a crucial component of Syd's mud kitchen. I had myself a perfect moment yesterday, as I was on my way across the room with a mug of green tea spiked with honey and lemon, and I spotted Syd through the sliding glass door, deeply immersed in her mud kitchen play. She had a couple of toy ponies out there, and she was talking to them, or making them talk, as she patted down a moss-covered mud pie into a metal tin that I'd bought her specifically for mud pie making from Goodwill a couple of weeks ago. I looked at her, looked at my mug of tea, thought about my other kid on her way with her father to go clean tack at the stables with some other Pony Club kids, and thought, "Hey, I'm doing this right!"

There's a lot of self-doubt involved in parenting, and a LOT of self-doubt involved in homeschooling, but for that one moment, watching a kid play at a table that she built herself, everything, including me, was perfect.


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