Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Walk in our Woods

Our woods may technically be only three-ish acres, but they're deep and full of mystery and fabulous discoveries--
peeping into a sinkhole/former well site

--and they connect seamlessly with woods on both sides so that what's actually available for us to explore seems quite vast.

Of course, the woods are also scrubby and full of greenbriers, so whenever I hike there, I bring my favorite toy with me:

I hike our woods fairly often, as does Will, and Syd is in and out of our woods and beyond several times a day, but poor Matt suffers terribly from allergies and contact dermatitis, and so a recent chilly day, after much of the summer foliage had withered and he could comfortably cover up from head to toe, was the first time he felt comfortable exploring with us, poor guy.

But now he knows why we like it so much!


The kids were thrilled to show him the sink hole, and the creek, and the spot where the natural spring emerges, and the "ravine," and the tree growing out of an old tub, and the old garbage dump site (we collect old glass soda bottles and brown glass bottles there), and the random section of barbed wire fence (gotta stay on your toes in our woods!), and the "meadow" where the woods finally emerges:
In the early summer, this was filled with grass as high as the kids' heads, but a bunch of construction equipment later in the summer tamped it down while they worked on those power lines.
It's the perfect little woods--big but not too big (you'd have to work hard not to eventually run into that meadow!), full of lots of excitement and a reasonable amount of danger. Every once in a while, I realize all over again that it's ours, and I find myself with this goofy, sort of astonished smile on my face.

And yes, I'm smiling that smile right now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of October 13, 2014: Spanish, Silk, and Science

MONDAY: More multiplication for Syd and long division for Will in this week's Math Mammoth; Will needs the drill, but I'm actually skipping much of the multiplication lessons for Syd, and just giving her the practice/extension problems, because she's got her facts pretty well memorized. Mental note for those with kids in the younger grades: if you can encourage your kids to memorize their multiplication facts early, they'll be able to skip past about half of third grade math!

The Connemara pony is the kids' research subject for their horseback riding class this week; as usual, one kid will research the pony, the other kid will research the pony's geography of origin, and they'll perform a Youtube search for interesting videos of the Connemara to see it in action. The kids also need to choose a song for their drill team performance--the current favorite is an instrumental version of "The House of the Rising Sun." I suggested a song from My Little Pony but was shouted down; apparently that would be "embarrassing." At what age do children develop an appreciation of camp, I wonder?

Tired of waiting for our local university's children's language class to sort out its funding, I'm starting the kids on Song School Spanish this week. The vocabulary in this volume is roughly equivalent to the vocabulary in the Latin volume Although I hate to book more than one extracurricular per day, we've got both our weekly volunteer gig and the kids' aerial silks class today. And although it would conflict with Syd's ballet class and so she can't do it, Will says that she wants to perform in her aerial silks program's winter recital, which would mean two-hour rehearsals on most Saturdays until late December. I'm not eager to take it on, but there's no other reason not to, and I'm loathe to discourage Will, who works so hard at aerial silks and yet struggles with confidence, from goal-setting and performing.

TUESDAY: I'm excited to watch this prehistoric flower documentary with the kids, and although I'm not sure that I'll have completed their display materials by tomorrow, the kids can still get started on prepping and labeling their fossils.

The kids blew through their last Junior Ranger badges, loved them, and I think got a lot out of them. I'm eager to see what they choose next.

Will has Robotics Workshop (she's becoming a LEGO Mindstorms expert!), and Syd has a playdate during that time. She and her little friend both like cooking, exploring our woods with walkie-talkies in hand, and pretending to be animals on obstacle courses--they get along great! I consider playdates as a "subject" because they're something organized into our day, and take away from the kids' free time, so I need to make sure that I've accounted for them, lest I book the day too full. And for Syd, unlike Will, they're absolutely crucial, so I've also got to make sure that I've got at least one one-on-one playdate scheduled for her each week.

WEDNESDAY: A true Free Day, for me, means zero scheduled activities OR an all-day outing, but the kids really, really, really want to take this Minecraft workshop at the library, so we will.

THURSDAY: First Language Lessons is a bore, but it's an easy lesson to delegate to Matt. After this week, though, we may need to take a break and just practice sentence diagramming; the book is so formulaic that I think the kids may be simply memorizing the book's formula, not necessarily the diagramming method.

I loathe carving Jack-o-lanterns, for some reason, but at least the kids are old enough now that I can pretty much just hand them the supplies and leave them to it.

I've got to prepare the dyes for this play silks project, but I'm interested in seeing if the kids really can "paint" play silks using the dyes without incurring a ridiculous amount of bleed. The date of the discovery of silk (2696 BCE) is the memory work for this lesson.

FRIDAY: I'll be going over this problem and this problem with the kids, to prepare them for the AMC 8 next month.

We've been studying spelling during the daily memory work, so I plan to have the kids take their spelling test before they write their sentences. Will they scream less about fewer sentences? We'll see!

I wanted to start the Flowers badge this week, because my first Girl Scout Co-op meeting about it is next week, but Will is really into her Digital Photographer badge right now, so she'll likely want to continue working on that. Syd has a few more activities to finish up for her Dancer badge.

We're going to see La Boheme this weekend, and I had hoped to have a more expansive unit of study on it for the kids, but unfortunately, there's really not much out there geared to studying opera at the elementary level, and I didn't feel like creating my own materials this time. Instead, we'll simply read this summary of La Boheme, listen to the music, and get excited for the show!

The kids have their first ice skating class of the season on this day. Will adores ice skating so much that I often feel sad for her that we don't have an all-seasons ice skating rink, but I admit that it does feel good in the spring when we can drop it from our schedule!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: This weekend is going to be insane. Just... insane. Saturday morning brings ballet class, which I also have to attend, since it's Parent Observation Day. After that, we'll zip home and get a bunch of party food started in the crock pots that I'm borrowing, but a few hours later Matt's got to take Syd back for Nutcracker rehearsal--my little snow angel is going to be performing in our local university's production of The Nutcracker! I'll stay home from that, at least, to continue party prep, because later that afternoon, we're throwing a housewarming party!

At least some of us will likely need to sleep in on Sunday, so the plan is to go out to brunch and then go to the opera. And then Matt and the kids are going to have to do all the party clean-up, because I'm clearly going to have to lock myself in my room and bust out all my weekend's work.

And after this, I only have one more week before my babies leave me for a week with their grandparents in California!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Latest: Pants, Pallets, and Flashlights

a write-up of PalletFest

and a tutorial for the cuffed pants that I sewed for Will

 I used the Pajama Pants for Everyone pattern from Weekend Sewing. Even though this is only one size up from this pair, it's quite roomy on Will:

And now, finally the poor child has ample clothing for cool weather--just in time for me to turn my attention to assisting in Halloween costume preparation.

Skeleton and puppy, at last account.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kid-Made: Candy-Coated Marshmallows Recipe

FYI: This recipe is really junky, AND it contains the kinds of food coloring that makes kids crazy, butbutBUT the kids can make it completely independently, which thrills them, and it totally counts for the Girl Scout Brownie Simple Snacks badge, if you've got any little girls who are working towards that.

You will need:
  • marshmallows. Go crazy and make your own marshmallows--that recipe is on my "To Do Someday" list.
  • white candy coating. I bought the Ghirardelli brand. I chose this over white chocolate, because white chocolate can be fiddly to melt and then work with.
  • food coloring. We used the Wilton gel colors, because Syd wanted about fifty different colors and I didn't feel like fighting about it right then. We do happily use the India Tree natural food coloring on most days, though.
  • bamboo skewers. I required that Syd not poke the pointy end into the marshmallows, on account of I didn't want to take anyone to the ER with a bamboo skewer lodged in their jaw, thank you very much.
  • parchment paper, aluminum foil, silpat, or other non-stick surface
1. Have the kid divide the candy coating into as many small Mason jars as she wants colors. The Ghirardelli brand comes in small wafers, so this is easy to do.

2. Have the kid put the Mason jars into the microwave and nuke them according to the package directions; this means that she should be stopping the microwave and attempting to stir them often, to judge when they've melted. When the candy coating is melted, it'll stay melted for a long while, so there will be plenty of time to complete the rest of the steps.

3. After the candy coating is melted, have the kid add food coloring to each jar and stir. Syd loooooooves this part! Incidentally, I was surprised at how much food coloring the candy coating required; usually, that Wilton gel stuff goes a long way, but this white candy coating just sucked it up. 

4. When all the candy coating is just the way that the kid likes it, the kid can insert the blunt end of a bamboo skewer into a marshmallow, then dip the marshmallow into a jar of candy coating and swirl it around, then place it on the parchment paper. 

5. If the kid wants to add second or third colors to the marshmallows (which is really cool-looking!), then each marshmallow should be put on parchment paper in the refrigerator as soon as the first color is completed; otherwise, the candy coating will never solidify in time to add more coats.

One bag of Ghirardelli candy coating was a good amount for one bag of large Jet Puft marshmallows, and between my two kids, another kid who came over for a playdate that afternoon (who I recalled, with much chagrin, making mini cupcakes with Syd the last time she came over--apparently I'm the mom who hypes all my kids' guests up on sugar while they're at my house!), and me and Matt late that night (funny the things that one decides are delicious at 11 pm!), there were just a couple of candy-coated marshmallows left over the next morning, and by 9 am, even those were gone.

Again, this recipe is so junky that I doubt that there's even a point to trying to do it in a healthy way, but it's great for a kid who loves playing around with color, like my kid does, and who loves to cook, like my kid does. She felt AWESOME offering her sister and her friend the treat that she'd made all by herself!

Although I'm also definitely on the prowl for HEALTHY simple snacks that kids can make independently, if you've got any in mind...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Peden Farm's Children's Farm Festival

The Peden family, one of our oldest local farming families, proved again that they are endowed with unsurpassable bravery and stamina--seriously, would YOU invite hundreds of small children onto your property, let them play with your animals and trample your grass, spend two days listening to their noise?

This is my children's favorite field trip of the entire year (in case you're curious, I bring my nookstocked with library books!). Here they are at Peden Farm three years ago:

And here they are last week!
The leaf rubbing is Will's favorite station. She makes a complete set every year.

Syd asked the docent if deer walked on their tiptoes like this leg suggests, and got a lesson on tendons!

I chatted with an entomologist about humane euthanasia of insects (freezer, then killing jar) and got some recommended reading!
That guy dresses exactly like my Pappaw. Exactly. Just substitute a Dixie Cup ball cap.

Don't worry--that poor child has several pairs of pants that fit her now.
They put the big electrician's gloves on the kids and then challenge them to pick up a dime.

pneumatic limestone carving
Will says that she'll stick to hand carving, thank you very much!
One of the interesting things about this festival is that although all children are invited, other than homeschoolers, only the younger grades of schoolchildren and preschoolers generally attend. And yet every year that my kids have attended since they, themselves, were preschoolers, they've remained enthralled by the same exhibits, while bring to each a larger context and coming away with a greater understanding:

This year, the kids were able to solve the nail puzzle.
This year, Will has experience with hand-carving limestone to contrast with pneumatic carving.
This year, a docent on the hayride pointed out to us a cave and former limestone quarry on the property.
This year, we learned how much a round bale of hay weighs (approximately 1,200 pounds!).
This year, Syd didn't just play with the water pump, but asked how it worked--and got an explanation!

Next year, the swarm of other children gathered with mine around each exhibit will likely be even shorter compared to them, but I still don't think that I'll have to worry about my kids being bored, or finding the programming babyish. I'm lucky to have kids who can soak in experiences, all kinds of experiences, and wonder at them, and be enthralled by them, and take something new from them every single time.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Writing the Four-Character Chinese Idioms

Along with memorizing the dates of the development and standardization of the Chinese writing system, I wanted the kids to get a little practice with Chinese calligraphy. They watched several of this animated series of cartoons illustrating Chinese four-character idioms (quite similar to our Aesop's fables and their morals), and then used this Chinese idioms worksheet to practice writing them.

I gave the kids small round paintbrushes and black craft acrylic paint to write with (although how cool would a real calligraphy set be?!?), and had them first use tracing paper to simply trace the four-character idioms, which fortunately are printed very large on the worksheet:

We didn't fuss about the proper order of brush strokes, but I pointed out the varying thicknesses of the strokes, and asked the children to recreate each character as accurately as possible.

I also asked them to set aside the tracing paper at some point and make an effort to copy the characters by themselves:

The kids spent ages doing multiple copies of these four-character idioms (yay!), and were really pleased with how they turned out. I added their best copies to our Ancient China wall display, which I actually have to move somewhere else, on account of our HUGE map of China (Thank you, Red Cross Book Sale Free Morning) won't fit there. 

I seriously thought about ordering silkworms for our lesson on silk next week (did you know that you could do this? Crazy!), but I just do not want to support a population of silkworms indefinitely through the winter, so I think I'll let the kids paint play silks, instead. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of October 6, 2014: Fall Break (for the other Kids)

The Box embed is being a jerk (that's a technical term) this morning, and I just can't deal, so here's the link to this week's work plans, if you can't see them above.

MONDAY: The public schools in our district have a week-long fall break this week, which means that lots of local places are offering school-age programming. Yay! On this day, I actually sent the kids away to the day camp that our local parks and recreation department offers. It's your pretty basic, run-of-the-mill day camp, but the counselors are all college students who seem to have endless amounts of patience and enthusiasm, and it's based in an elementary school, so the kids eat in the cafeteria and play on the playground, stand in line, wait their turn, etc. They also go on field trips, play group games, complete bizarre craft projects, and do just about a million other things between the hours of 8 and 5. I absolutely count this as a school day.

TUESDAY: Today was a little more hectic than it appears, since we spent much of the morning at the free morning of a HUGE book sale that our local chapter of the Red Cross does ever year. Seriously, it's an Event! And there are so many books there--like, two warehouse's worth--that even on the free morning, there are fabulous books that have just been... overlooked. This morning I found, among many other wonderful treasures, four volumes of the A History of US set that I've been using as a US history spine. I mean, seriously yay!

Considering that there was also a magic/juggling/ventriloquism show at the library that the kids were practically vibrating with excitement about, I purposefully made the schoolwork for this day more efficient than usual. Will is still practicing long division in Math Mammoth--she keeps putting the second digit of the quotient in the wrong place, then shouting "I don't understand this!"--and Syd, thanks to the fact that I forced her to memorize her multiplication facts last year since I was already bullying Will through them, is breezing through her multiplication unit, also in Math Mammoth.

We didn't have internet at home on Tuesday, so the kids didn't actually do their Spelling City, but they did both do an excellent job copying their spelling words into cursive--the kids practice spelling every day as part of their memory work, but spelling words also make for good cursive practice.

Syd worked more on her City of Rocks Junior Ranger badge, and may have finished it. Will spent that whole time being pissed off at long division, so she'll work on her Redwoods State and National Parks Junior Ranger badge another time.

Will did take a break from long division so that we could all read the farming chapter from Ancient China, then Syd set up our mini rice farm in a bucket. That night, we went to our natural foods co-op for their freshest, wholest-looking rice, and then Will planted it! The kids are memorizing the dates of early farming in Ancient China (aproximately 8000-2205 BCE, if you're curious), to go along with this. I've really loved this study of Ancient China through the lens of its artifacts, by the way--perfect combo of history, timeline memorization, and hands-on projects!

WEDNESDAY: We woke up at 6:00 am to bundle up, drag a bunch of blankets over to the drive-in, and lay and watch the lunar eclipse--we also saw two meteors, two artificial satellites, and many, many constellations! I've been waiting for years for the kids to show enough interest in astronomy to support a science unit; since we've also got a partial solar eclipse in our area in a couple of weeks, it may be time to finish up paleontology and jump on astronomy while it's hot!

Our current Girl Scout Co-op unit is Dance, and another mom is having the kids over on this morning to learn historical fad dances. Can you imagine anything any more fun than that? I'm pretty excited to see what they'll cover.

We've finished our Oregon Trail/pioneer history unit, but there are still a dozen or so library books on our shelves. It's mostly housecleaning to have the kids look through that remainder, but I know that they'll enjoy the chance to just lounge about and read and call it school.

THURSDAY: For years, I've wanted to show the kids how amazing it is to simply fill a pumpkin with potting soil, water it, and then watch the pumpkin seeds sprout. I don't know if it'll actually work at this time of year, or if I'll just be hosting a moldy, dirt-filled pumpkin on top of my chest freezer, but we'll see, I suppose! It makes a fun little segue so that we can briefly review some botany, anyway--I've got a Girl Scout Co-op unit on Flowers to arrange in just a couple of weeks!

Gawd, I'm starting to hate First Language Lessons. I think I'm just going to skip the rest of the MANY chapters on the uses of adverbs--seriously, the kids get it!--and see if that makes me want to bang my head against the wall a little less.

The university program that I had intended for my children to take language classes through had their funding delayed, and their class schedule is still not up, sigh. I hadn't intended to take this long of a hiatus from foreign language study. I've checked out the other titles in the Song School series from the library, and I've decided that for the time being, we'll review the Song School Latin vocab, and then study Song School Spanish and Song School Greek to learn the same vocabulary in those languages. That, at least, will be an excellent spine for future foreign language study.

I've signed the children up to take the AMC 8 exam next month. It's vastly too advanced for them, of course, but it will be excellent practice for future years, when they'll be more competitive, and it will also be excellent practice for taking standardized exams. Nevertheless, the kids should each be able to handle a problem or two, and make a good stab at some others, so I've set aside a spot each week to go over a couple of problems from past exams with them and demonstrate how to solve them using models. As an aside, I've inter-library loaned much of the Beast Academy series through our university library, and I'm eager to peruse it.

FRIDAY/SATURDAY/SUNDAY: I cherish our free day each week, and I usually try not to have any extracurriculars or outside activities on that day, but this is just a busy week, and this week's free Friday will be broken up by an assessment for the kids' upcoming ice skating classes.

On Saturday, Matt will be taking both kids to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a Girl Scout event--they're going to get to ride their bikes AROUND THE TRACK! How cool is that!?! I'm torn, because I kind of want to call and see if I can still sign up to attend, too, but I can also get a lot done during an entire day home alone, and I feel better about getting stuff done if I know that the kids are doing something fun and engaging elsewhere. So, yeah... we'll see.

Chess club is the only scheduled activity for Sunday, but we've also got to get our chicken coop insulated before the cold weather really hits, so the rest of the day may likely involve much woodwork, some swears, many trips to the hardware store, etc.

You're not going to believe it, but next week is even busier!


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