Friday, March 6, 2015

Using Board Books for Foreign Language Study, and other Adventures in Mandarin

For years, I had been looking forward to outsourcing the children's foreign language study. I'm confident at imparting a reading/translation knowledge of any of the languages that I, myself have a [very much lapsed] reading/translating knowledge of (Latin, Attic Greek, Spanish, Icelandic, Old Norse, Middle Welsh, Old English), but I'd rather that they learn pronunciation for extant languages from native speakers.

What I did not realize, however, and yet should have, I suppose, is that even with the children taking a foreign language class, as they are this semester--Mandarin Chinese, through a grant program at our local university--there would still be a lot of work for ME! This isn't just free time in my school schedule, alas. The kids have homework, and of course they must practice daily, and since they're crap at telling me what they did/learned/were assigned in class, of course I must look it up for myself, then find the resources to get them the pronunciation models that they need to accurately review their vocabulary each day.

So each weekend, part of my lesson planning for the coming week is to look up what the kids did in Mandarin class that Saturday, and find the resources to support that particular vocabulary review. The instructors provide excellent cultural enrichment during class, but if I find anything extra that fits with what they did, I also throw that in.

My absolute favorite resource is this YouTube channel, Learn Chinese with Emma. So far, I've managed to find a video from her that covers every single piece of new vocabulary that the children have studied.

There are the basic greetings:

The numbers:

Helpful vocabulary for the New Year celebration:

The seasons:

And new for this week, family members:

One thing that works GREAT for learning a foreign language is board books. You know board books--those laminated cardboard books that they give to babies so that their slobber doesn't dissolve them and they can't rip them up. They're short, because babies have short attention spans, and they have simple vocabulary, because babies don't know many words, and generally the vocabulary is pretty basic, because you want your baby to learn "blue" and "truck" before she learns "disestablishmentarianism" and "fuschia." We use the dual-language approach to reading that I learned from Miss Nancy in toddler Spanish playgroup many, many, many [10] years ago: you read what you can read in the target language, and read everything else in English. Here's Syd practicing her Mandarin vocabulary with a dual-language board book:


You can hear the very beginnings of the tones that she needs to use. Will is still very much "tone deaf," but I'm glad that they're getting the exposure to it. It'll be easier to hear when their study continues, whether that's next semester or in 20 years, you know?

Now that the kids have this much vocab under their belts, I think my lesson plans will begin to reflect an enrichment activity for Mandarin every week--this totally defeats any freedom in my schedule that outsourcing the language provided, but, eh. The kids need it for the reinforcement, and the immersion is fun!

One area that I still need help in supporting them is the written language. As far as I can tell, the class doesn't focus on it, but all the new vocabulary is also written down for the children, so they could certainly learn to read it. I'd like them to learn to write it, as well, but I do not have the first idea about how to start with that. Perhaps my research for these enrichment plans will lead me in the right direction...

So, knowing that we're still very much in the middle of this first Mandarin language class, here are some of the reading/viewing listening resources that we've been enjoying so far:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Latest: The Awesomes

My round-up of the week's paid writing is late, because on Sunday I was deliberately NOT doing all the productive things that I usually do on Sundays. Instead, I watched Birdman, and spent a lot of time sledding, and ate Tibetan food--you know, the kind of stuff that the normals probably always do on a Sunday.

Anyway, here's what I got paid to write last week!


and ALL about the superhero costumes that I made for the kids and submitted to our town's Trashion/Refashion Show jury
I wrote this tute on appliqueing jersey knit without using fusibles



Syd and Will both helped piece the T-shirt fabric for their capes.

I made a template, and their job was to piece together something that was larger than that template.
Then I cut that piece to size, and added it to the cape.
I decided not to take the time to starch, so instead I painstakingly pinned while watching... is that Supernatural or New Girl? Can't tell.

Here are the rest of my build notes for the completed garments




I'm not super pleased with how these came out--if I hadn't been spending most of my time last month managing the Girl Scout cookie business, I think that you'd be looking at a much more elaborately detailed, intricately pieced pair of costumes right now--but I think that what you are looking at at least has more of the feel of a homemade, kid-designed superhero costume, like what a kid superhero would actually look like if she actually had the skills to applique herself a cape and sew herself a leotard. 

And, of course, the kids like them, so, you know, fuck you, Perfectionism!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of March 2, 2015: Ice Skating and Ballet

Much of last week was actually spent finishing the kids' superhero costumes, and much of this week will be spent shuttling Will back and forth to rehearsals for the Spring Ice Show (Momma Moment of Brag: Will was promoted yet another level in ice skating this session! Next session, which alas won't be until the fall, she will be in Level 6, the second highest level in the program, and can also choose to join the figure skating club. It's a Big Deal), so we didn't finish all of last Friday's schoolwork, and I'm frankly not sure if we'll do all our work every day this week, especially since I didn't carve out a space in the lesson plans for those Ice Show rehearsals. No pressure.

To help the kids keep track independently, I've added their daily practice work to the work plans, so that they can see what they need and check it off without having to ask what's left. Since I've begun asking them to do this, I've deleted our ten minutes of daily memory work in the car; you can't do cursive or keyboard OR typing in the car, and their Chinese practice mostly involves relevant videos from the Learn Chinese with Emma channel on YouTube. We really like to listen to audiobooks in the car, anyway, so this gives us more time for that.

This week's assigned books include more Chinese vocabulary study (board books are GREAT for this, by the way), Chinese mythology, fiction involving the Lippizaner, for Syd, and Degas, for Will, and some a picture book about the ballet--although Syd at least knows the names of the various ballet terms when spoken, neither of them are familiar with them in print.

MONDAY: We've got our volunteer gig at our local food pantry as usual, today, and Will has Ice Show rehearsal. At home, Syd is starting a unit on measurements in Math Mammoth, while Will, still in decimals, is getting some extra practice converting between decimals and fractions today before she continues in her Math Mammoth unit.

Both kids will take a Hoffman Academy lesson, which they can do independently, and they can choose a Girl Scout badge to work on, also independently. Sometimes I add extra work and reading to the badge requirement to turn it into a unit study, but since both kids are bridging into a new level this summer, right now I'm pretty much just letting them get on with earning whatever badges they'd like to earn before they bridge.

We're still studying Sleeping Beauty, in preparation for Syd's spring ballet recital on that theme. We watched the Disney version a couple of weeks ago; this week focuses on the ballet version, and then we'll read the fairy tale version, and then I'll ask them to analyze and compare all the versions.

TUESDAY: Free day! Robotics Club and Ice Show rehearsal are at the same time on this night, so I'm going to have to ask Will to choose. I wonder what she'll pick?

WEDNESDAY: We've got First Language Lessons, but I am officially on the lookout for a grammar study with shorter lessons that Syd can do daily, as First Language Lessons is no longer really working as something that the kids use together. Syd needs more reinforcement/practice, whereas Will just needs to learn labels for this stuff and then move on. So, if you've got any ideas, pass them to me!

Thank-you emails didn't get done last week, so hopefully they'll get done on this day. Zoology for Kids DID get done last week, and it was a huge hit, so now the kids are tackling the next chapter.
Both kids now like to attend Magic Tree House Club on separate computers, rather than both huddling around one as they used to. This means that I sacrifice my laptop to one kid on Magic Tree House Club days, and THIS means that I actually cook dinner on Wednesdays! It's pretty amazing what I can do to get out of it on all the other days of the week.

THURSDAY: Syd has more thank-you notes that didn't get done last week, this time for Trashion/Refashion Show clothing donations. And even though the Science Fair isn't until April this year, I like the kids to get started on it early, because sometimes Science Fair projects take a lot of time to complete. Will thinks that she wants to make a maze for Hexbug Nano robots, and explain how they work--I'd like her to do some simple hacks on them, as well, but we'll see. Syd thinks that she might want to do something with plants, or something with chickens. I'm debating between letting her scroll through my science pinboards for inspiration, or making her use her own brain to come up with something that might be much more or much less creative and interesting.

Our homeschool group is meeting up for ice skating instead of gym time on this day, so I don't know--Will might not be enthusiastic about yet more skating by then, especially as she'll have to be back on the ice four hours later. We might just have a little more unplanned free time instead!

Meanwhile, Will is VERY upset about some recent choices that the newspaper made regarding their Sunday comics. She'll be explaining them in a letter to the editor.

FRIDAY: A couple of these assignments are hold-overs from last Friday, when I didn't even attempt school, instead just focusing on finishing the kids' superhero costumes and leaving them to themselves for the day. Syd is still having a lot of fun writing and illustration short stories, however, so I've got that as an assignment for her to encourage her to do another one, and, for my own personal pleasure, I've been interested in getting the kids into fan culture, which is a big academic interest and hobby of mine. Fan culture can be a really accessible entry into all kinds of creative fields, so I'm going to see how the kids might like reviewing some of the Minecraft videos that they watch and creating a podcast on the topic.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Ice Show rehearsal, Ice Show performance, ballet, Chinese--kind of a busy weekend, but all the kids' weekend extracurriculars will be on break for the next two weekends due to the university's spring break, so it's okay to have a busy send-off.

For me, I'll be relishing this week as a chance to get back to business as usual after a February that consisted entirely of Girl Scout cookies and Trashion/Refashion Show designs--I've got blog posts to write, etsy orders to create, some unit studies to research, some books to review, and a couple of field trips to plan. I do like to keep myself busy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

World Thinking Day 2015: A Trip to Mongolia

In our council, the Girl Scouts celebrate World Thinking Day with a giant Geography Fair. It's even more fun than a regular academic fair, because more kids working together means MORE elaborate displays, MORE games and activities, MORE food to taste, and MORE presentations--what homeschooler wouldn't love that?!?

My troop, led by another mom who speaks the language, has traveled there, and thus has lots of knowledge plus cool souvenirs to share, presented on Mongolia. The girls all worked on different parts of the display, and it came out really well--very informative, very elaborate, but clearly kid-made all the way through:

As you can see, we've got photos and facts about Mongolia, info about Mongolian horses and Genghis Khan, the Girl Scout motto in Mongolia, its map and flag, demonstrations of a game played with sheep ankle bones, and food samples of fried bread and salty, milky tea


I'm impressed that I managed to get photos of the display as a whole looking like that, because most of the time it looked like this:

Yeah, there were a LOT of kids there. 

Fortunately, my troop has enough kiddos that the girls could trade off offering food samples, stamping passports, demonstrating the game (that's what my two mostly did)--


--and visiting all the other countries at the festival. They also presented a puppet show of a Mongolian folk tale, including making the decorated curtain, making the puppets, and practicing telling the story over and over and over again so that they could do it unscripted.

It was an awesome experience for the kids, and just the kind of cross-curricular, high-intensity, immersive, FUN academics that I like for them to have.

In our family, we also used the weeks when we were preparing for this festival as a short unit on Mongolia, so the kids researched and did their display as part of their schoolwork, researched Mongolian horses, completed the Story of the World chapters on Genghis Khan, and learned to recognize Mongolian music (there's a ton on Spotify!). Here are some of the reading/watching/listening resources that we enjoyed during this unit:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of February 23, 2015: Fashion Show, Field Trips, and Final Cookie Orders (Yay!)


I have GOT to finish the kids' Trashion/Refashion Show entries this week! I was thrown off my game by a full day last week when, no matter how many times I sewed it, Will's T-shirt biketard simply. Refused. To. Work. Now that I've got that nailed down finally, I keep telling myself that all the rest of the design and sewing will go much more quickly, but still... must get it done this week. That Thursday Free Day is going to be the final leg of the race, no matter what.

In addition to these lesson plans, the kids' daily work will include, as always, chores, typing practice, keyboard practice, Chinese practice, and a daily book or documentary of my choice, to be read/viewed and then discussed with me. Those selections include a picture book biography of Georgia O'Keeffe that I thought that Syd would enjoy, a photo/essay book on fossils that I thought that Will would enjoy, a couple of books and videos for more Chinese language practice, and some selections on ballet or Sleeping Beauty, the theme of Syd's Spring ballet recital.

MONDAY: This time last week we were in the middle of a blizzard, and all outside-the-house activities were happily cancelled, but today we'll be happy to be back at our regular volunteer gig now that everything is plowed and cleared and the snow is piled up where it ought to be--a foot deep on the grass, perfect for sledding and forts and snowpeople in our free time!

In Math Mammoth this week, Will is studying decimals and Syd is studying area, perimeter, and volume. On this day, I'll be showing Will how one can use our Base Ten blocks as decimal manipulatives (hint: the hundred flat equals ONE), and Syd will be helping me tape out a template for the capes that she designed in masking tape right onto the floor. I'm hoping that she and her sister can sew these capes themselves, or at least baste them by hand for me to sew...

Will has the outline for her essay on historically black colleges and universities written, so this week she'll be writing that essay, then editing it. And yes, I do make suggestions in colored ink all over her rough draft, just as I used to do with my freshman comp students. Syd also has a book report to write on this day, and both kids need to write some thank-you notes to some extra generous Girl Scout cookie customers.

I've set aside time for the kids to have a Hoffman Academy keyboard lesson today, but I think that I'll actually give them the choice to either take a new lesson or complete the worksheets from the last few lessons--I got lazy about printing the worksheets for them, because for a couple of weeks in a row they'd just seemed like busywork, but now that I look back at the pages that they missed, I think that they'll want them for the rhythm and note identification.

TUESDAY: We'll actually be gone for most of the day on this day; we'll be helping with seed sorting at the food pantry where we volunteer weekly, and we'll be sledding with friends, AND the kids have Science Club (and hopefully I have a date at a Mexican restaurant!) that night.

The kids, especially Will, love animals so much that I think they'll be excited to start this zoology unit on this day. We'll be using Zoology for Kids, and the first lesson is an introduction to animal biology at the cellular level, and it asks the kids to make an edible animal cell model--yum! We'll be doing it cookie cake-style, and I plan to require them to also make an edible plant cell model, so that they can see the similarities/differences.

WEDNESDAY: In addition to horseback riding class, the kids and I have a field trip to a local wild animal rescue center on this afternoon--they are going to be SO excited. We'll slog through one, two, or three First Language Lessons lessons, depending on how long each one is, and hopefully the Trashion/Refashion Show garments will be finished--at least *almost* finished--by the end of this day.

THURSDAY: If not, I'll be ignoring the kids all morning while I finish them on THIS day!

FRIDAY: It's early for Easter eggs, I know, but I have an experiment with dyeing brown eggs that I'm desperate to run, and I know that the kids won't care whether or not it's off-season.

The kids have a couple of larger orders of Girl Scout cookies to add notes and prizes to, wrap up for mailing, write addresses on, and calculate postage for. If it needs to be done anyway, might as well do it as part of school!

This Prima Princessa ballet DVD might be on the baby-ish side, I'm suspecting, but it's supposed to provide an excellent narration of the story as told in the Sleeping Beauty ballet (as opposed to the Disney movie), so I think that it'll be a worthwhile experience, and it's also supposed to include some little ballet moves for the kids to do along with the video, which will be nice for Will, who's never taken a ballet class in her life, to try out and get the feel of.

While Will takes her final ice skating class of the season, Syd can write thank-you notes to the relatives who generously mailed us their unwanted black or white T-shirts that will hopefully by then be part of our 100% completed Trashion/Refashion Show garments!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Saturday, as usual, will have Matt spending part of the day taking Syd to ballet and both kids to Chinese and doing something fun with them in between. Sunday will hopefully be a day at home for everyone!

Because now that we've got our two favorite sledding runs nice and packed down, it would be a shame not to spend half the day, every single day, out on them!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Latest: Trains, Rainbows, and Sandwich Boards





I thought that I'd have a T-shirt biketard to show you, and I do have it, but the tute for it will have to wait until I sew Syd's--it turns out that T-shirt fabric works as a leotard really only for kids whose bodies are still straight little noodles, NOT for kids whose bodies have hips and waists and itty bitty busts, so although Will's biketard will work fine for play and for her runway walk at the Trashion/Refashion Show, it won't work for actual aerial silks or gymnastics use, so I don't need to write you a tutorial for making a non-functioning biketard.

I bet you could figure out how to make a non-functioning biketard all on your own.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Our DIY Aerial Silks Rig

For playing such a large part in our daily lives, this DIY aerial silks rig of ours is something that I haven't really shared as such yet. Part of the reason is that Matt and I put it up during a busy time (Nutcracker season!) and then modified it during another busy time, so I didn't have hours to spare to describe the process and the tools and the supplies in the loving, obsessive, undoubtedly-tedious-to-read detail that I usually expend.

Another part, though, is that this rig has fit so seamlessly into our lives, become such a natural, integral part of it, that I honestly don't spend much time noticing that giant swath of fabric hanging in the middle of our big hallway. The kids play on it and around it off and on all day, expending fabulous amounts of energy, calling me to come and see some new trick or skit or performance. I pass by it dozens of time every day, admiring a kid or pausing to give her a push or toss down some more mats or stopping to tie it up out of our way, only to pass by again an hour later and see it hanging down again after another unnoticed playtime.

It was actually only as I was going through some photos from the year so far that I noticed over and over again batches of photos that I'd snapped of the kids on their rig, and realized that I haven't yet been super braggy (well, I *have* been super braggy, but perhaps not in an overabundance of photos) about it here!

So here I am, super braggy about our aerial silks rig:
You can see here that I had Matt hack off the middle of our exposed beam and drill through a higher exposed beam to mount this rig. The ends of the exposed beam look janky, but we kept the cedar facing, so if we ever want to permanently remove the rig, we can nail the cedar facing back up to the beam ends and it will look exactly as it did before.
I believe that this is called a "Princess Sit?" I've resigned myself to the fact that in every photo that I share of this rig in action, you'll be able to see random clutter in my hallway. Shown here: plywood for a future mounted Hot Wheels track, Galileoscope, fire extinguisher, box of World War II letters, plastic crates stolen from the back of Kroger's, and, of COURSE, a ladder.
This is the Twizzler. It requires tricky balance, and both kids were very pleased when they mastered it.
 I especially love how this rig encourages cooperative play between my often competitive, often bickering, often jealous children:
I made Syd this Avengers leotard out of a T-shirt

The kids saw their instructors performing this two-person stunt at the winter showcase, so of course they practiced it, too!


 Check out the muscles on my kids--one can pull up her sister while hanging upside down, and the other can pull herself upside down while hanging onto her sister!

 The reverse is a little harder:

 So they decided to do this instead:

 And it turns out that the reverse of that is a little harder, too!

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