Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dragons and Light

I know that light tables are a BIG thing with the preschool set nowadays, but my big kids also seem to find plenty of ways to play with ours. The other day, while listening to the Story of the World chapters on Ancient China, I dragged our big light table out so that they could color Asian dragons from their stained glass coloring book:




Big kids love color, too!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spots Came Home

We grieved for this cat for two months. We put flyers all over town. We drove to neighborhoods where people told us they'd seen cats like her and shouted her name (sometimes people yelled at us because, you know, shouting). We paid for newspaper ads. We talked to strangers. We put a big yard sign up by our mailbox. We visited the animal shelter weekly to look at strays. I gave up hope, frankly, but we still continued to do these things.

And friends and strangers--they put up flyers, too. Total strangers put flyers up all over town. Total strangers drove to neighborhoods where people told them that they'd seen cats like her and shouted her name. More than once, total strangers caught and confined cats and called us to come over and look at them (the cutest time was when some college women renting a house near our old neighborhood called Matt on a Friday night. They had seen a cat that they just knew was Spots, caught her, and put her in, like, a gerbil cage on top of their kitchen table. They were SUPER sad when Matt told them that the cat wasn't Spots, but then one of them turned to the others and said, "Does this mean that we just abducted someone's cat?").

Friends contacted me all the time with good wishes and helpful advice. They called people they knew who worked in vets' offices and asked them to keep a lookout. They shared our flyers with all their friends on Facebook.

Yesterday, someone who'd seen our yard sign called to say that a cat like Spots had been hanging around his street for the past couple of weeks. Matt and I drove over there, like we always do, I got out of the car, like I always do, and I called her name, like I always do.

Before I'd even finished shouting her name one time, Spots burst out of the bushes to my right, just a few feet in front of me.

She didn't run to me, but ran across the street in front of me, and into another field, but when I called her name again she stopped, and although she still didn't come to me, she meowed when I spoke to her and let me creep over to her and pick her up.

I wasn't 100% sure that it WAS Spots, to be frank. It looked an awful lot like her, yes, but maybe her brown parts were too brown? And she didn't *really* act like she knew me, in the way that my Spots knew me and came running every time I called her. Her pupils were giant and she was wild-looking and didn't want me to hold her and carry her. Matt and I actually drove her to a vet to get her microchip scanned, but the vet didn't have a contract with this particular microchip company and so couldn't get a reading.

So we brought her home, and kept an eye on her as she roamed and explored and sniffed the other cats and then settled in for a nap, and as soon as I saw her on the sofa, curled up the way she has a billion times before, I thought, "That's probably Spots." And when she finally came over to me and let me pick her up, and she settled against my shoulder like a baby the way she also has a billion times before, I thought, "This is my Spots!"

She'd been missing for more than two months. We found her less than a mile from our house. There's not a scratch on her. She doesn't seem to have lost any weight. We're taking her to the vet for a check-up soon, but she seems... fine, actually. She seems great.

I am joyful. I am thrilled. I am really, really, really lucky. I am thankful to everyone who passed out flyers, shared info, kept a lookout, and sent hopeful thoughts my way.

And tonight, we are having a kitty party in Spots' honor! There will be canned cat food, and catnip mice, and Matt swears that he'll bring home a cake for the humans that reads "Welcome Home, Spots. You're Purrfect."

And if an adult will willingly give that message to a baker, then you KNOW how much we'd been missing her!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Literally Walk through Long Division

Although Will seems to understand the concept behind long division just fine (we'll nevertheless still continue to go over it amply, rest assured), she just can't seem to keep the steps in her head, so I thought we'd mix it up a bit and get that whole body learning going by moving the lesson outside.

I wrote a GIANT long division problem on our driveway, and then literally walked Will through it. Will started by standing on the divisor, and then walked across the dividend until she reached a place where the divisor would fit. Then she walked straight up to write down that portion of the quotient, walked back to the divisor to multiply, then walked down to write the product. Then she subtracted to find the remainder:

She walked up again to find the next digit of the dividend to bring down, and so on:



Most kids would probably think that this was a fun activity (Syd watched the whole thing eagerly, practically vibrating as she tried to figure out a way that she could participate), but Will haaaaaaated it! It took too long, required too much effort, she had to bend down to write, etc. etc. Before she'd finished the above problem, in fact, her grousing reached such a level that I gave her the official verdict of Bad Attitude.

You may already know, but in our family, if you complete your entire day's schoolwork with a Good Attitude, you earn yourself a solid hour of screen time afterwards. If, instead, you display a Bad Attitude, you earn no screen time, and I tell your father when he gets home from work and he frowns at you and gives you the same lecture over again. You do not like it.

Anyway, this was Monday, and during yesterday's math, which was supposed to be an easy review of some stuff she learned last week, I saw that Will was having an awful lot of trouble with the "find the missing factor" part of division. She'd be presented with an easy division problem, say 84/9, and would just start wildly guessing what factor multiplied by nine would come the closest to 84 without going over. Three? Seven? 

So today, instead of our regularly scheduled Math Mammoth, we're going to have multiplication boot camp, reviewing the multiplication facts and reviewing them again when presented as missing factor problems. 

If only you could literally beat the multiplication tables into someone's head, sigh. I know you can't, so I won't try, and also that would be wrong, but if only...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of September 15, 2014: Extracurriculars and Extra Badges

MONDAY: I just realized that this day is stacked with our quickest, easiest subjects; if I'd noticed as I was planning yesterday, I would have switched one of these subjects with Wednesday's history assignment, but oh, well--more time for chores today, then!

First Language Lessons continues. The kids are memorizing William Makepeace Thackeray's "A Tragic Story" as part of their current lessons; it's not my favorite poem, but they like it.

The kids are also still working on states and capitals memorization, and reading L is for Lincoln just for fun. I'm eager to have this memorization accomplished, because I've finally figured out what I'd really like the kids to do for geography next, and I'm excited to present it to them! I think that next week I'll revisit daily "memory work"; it got out of hand when we last had it regularly scheduled, so this time I'll likely also institute a time limit.

Matt sat both the kids down last week and actually made them study their spelling words instead of just goofing around on Spelling City (another reason for a daily memory work time), so they both aced their tests and have all new lists this week! I give Will 20 words at a time, and Syd 15; as they memorize words, I'll take them off of their lists, and when they're down to five or fewer words, I restock their list. I've still got the kids using Spelling City, however, goofing around or not; perhaps when we're doing daily memory work, I'll delete spelling as a discrete subject and simply have spelling words as part of the memory work.

Will is still working on division in Math Mammoth, and still fighting all the computation involved in long division, so later I'm going to take her out to the driveway, write long division problems in huge script on our driveway, and then literally walk her through them. Syd is starting multiplication in her Math Mammoth, a unit that should go well since I had her memorize facts along with Will last year; today we'll review them while playing Roll-n-Multiply--she LOVES this game!

I've started recording the kids' hours that we spend volunteering at the food pantry on Mondays; apparently, the mayor's office offers a service award to children, evaluated solely on volunteer hours, that the children will certainly be eligible for at the end of my twelve-month recording period.

TUESDAY: Lately, Math Mammoth has been moving both kids along a little too quickly, which means that not only do they not get to feel a sense of mastery over any particular math concept, but they also feel frustrated at daily having to slog through a new concept, and not remembering how to deal with previously-taught concepts. This day's math, then, is a review of the previous week, using worksheets found online and in our Kumon drill books. Syd has Roman numerals, the order of operations, and graphs, and Will has word problems, multi-digit multiplication, and division. If they need review again next week, I'll switch this to Monday and put the hands-on enrichment for the coming week on Tuesday.

Every week I tell myself that next week I should push cursive more. Every week I have more interesting things that I want to schedule instead.

Although I usually give the kids free reign over their Girl Scout badges, I'm going to encourage Syd to tackle the reading list for her Bugs badge (because those books are going to be due back at the library soon) and Will to make 3D glasses with me (because I want to write the project up as a tute for CAGW). We'll see how this goes over!

Horseback riding lessons start again this week, and the kids are SO excited to get back to their horses! The fall show is coming up next month, so I imagine they'll be doing a lot of work on the drill team performance that they'd like to perform at the show.

Will also has a robotics workshop that she attends on alternate Tuesdays; the kids are learning to program and problem-solve using LEGO Mindstorms. I'm planning an at-home robotics unit to accompany these sessions, but don't have it prepared yet.

Because Syd's not old enough for the robotics workshop, she has reading as her final school slot on this day. I'm asking her to read me the first chapter of Island Horse, then to finish reading it on her own this week.

WEDNESDAY: This is usually our weekly free day, but I'm experimenting with moving the free day around to take advantage of days when we don't have scheduled extracurriculars; this week, that's Friday! I'm playing around with how I want to go about scheduling weekly writing, so since last week I had the kids write essays, and book reports the week before, on this day I'm asking them to write a short story.

The kids are looking forward to starting the Great Wall of China diorama that I've assigned them on this day. I've got enough styrofoam blocks for one diorama, so I'll have them work together; hopefully, there won't be too much conflict between Syd's perfectionism and Will's disdain for creating visual art. We're exploring Ancient China through the lens of its artifacts, so there will be a lot of these projects involved in our study.

I've discovered that there are also Junior Ranger badges that are focused on subject, rather than the parks, and this Junior Paleontologist badge is one of them. I need to order some more supplies before I can get the kids to work preparing and displaying their own fossils from the dino dig, so hopefully this self-directed unit will buy me the time that I need.

Will is getting frustrated because she thinks she's advancing too slowly at aerial silks (mind you, the classes were on hiatus this summer, and the first day back was necessarily a review, but Will doesn't want to perfect skills that she's already learned--she wants to learn NEW skills!), and asked me to sign her up for two classes this week, so I signed both kids up for two out of convenience.

THURSDAY: I added a book to this day's math, just for fun. I like to have a book or video as part of each day's schoolwork, because the kids enjoy them and because they seem to absorb information well from those outlets.

Grammar and spelling are repeats from Monday. I would have liked to have a second slot for cursive this week, and a slot for art, but the kids have an unusual amount of extracurriculars this week. I count extracurriculars as slots in our school day to make sure that I'm leaving enough free time in the children's schedules. I know that most kids who go to school have extracurriculars on top of school and then homework on top of that, but my kids' free time is precious to them--and to me!--and it's really important to me that it be preserved.

That being said, the kids have two scheduled activities on this day, which I also try not to do. At least one of the activities, our homeschool group's Park Day, is just free play.

FRIDAY: Free day! The kids have a buddy coming over to play in the afternoon, and there's a craft project that I'd like to interest them in, but otherwise, their time is their own.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: This weekend is unusually scheduled, as well. Not only does Syd have her regular ballet class on Saturday morning, but in the afternoon she has an audition for the university's yearly production of The Nutcracker. On Sunday, Matt's taking the kids to the Hoosier Outdoor Experience while I stay at home and work my butt off.

Surely by the end of the weekend, my study will be unpacked? That would certainly be a sanity-booster!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Latest: Making Repairs and Playing with Food

a round-up of easy repair tutes






Look how cute it turned out!

I'll pretend that I'm showing you the following pictures just to illustrate to you how well the dress drapes, but really you know that I just want to show off my adorable kid:



In some ways, this project might seem a little odd: the dress itself is from Old Navy, which is known for its cheap, easily-replaced garments, and this particular dress, actually, was free, a hand-me-down from a friend who warned me, when she gave it to me, that it had a hole in the tushy. 

Why bother repairing, you might ask, when I could probably walk into Old Navy today and buy an identical one for four bucks?

Well, because even though it's from Old Navy (I've had bad luck with some of their clothes), it's a good-quality garment, it's roomy enough to fit Syd well through next summer, it's comfortable and she likes it so it will get a lot of wear, and it's so easy to repair that I couldn't have gone to Old Navy and back in the time that it took me to mend this dress. 

Even so, yeah, it did take me about an hour to mend a $4 dress, which wouldn't be worth it to a lot of people. But it's worth it to me, because I prefer to use what we have rather than buy new, even if it's cheap, and I like to see my kids wearing clothes that I've sewed for them, and I to see my kids in interesting, unexpected clothes, when I have the time to make them for them. 

So I had a little extra free time this Wednesday to repair a comfy dress using an interesting detail, and it made me happy, and it made Syd happy, so yay.

And then, of course, we woke up the next morning to see that the weather turned, and it's now freezing here. And now I'm extra glad that I lengthened the dress so that Syd can wear it next summer, too!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Will Demonstrates Centrifugal Force

Here's another activity from the Girl Scout Entertainment Technology Junior badge that Will has technically earned probably thrice over by now, but that has such enjoyable activities that she just keeps coming back to it:

(Note of oddness: Lately, my videos haven't been playing with Youtube's Safety Mode on, although I assure you that they are all quite appropriate for all audiences! If you're logged into Youtube, you may have to scroll down to the bottom of any page, where you'll find the Language and Safety Mode menus, then turn Safety Mode off.)

I think I've mentioned before that I create a list of additional activities (I have a whole Girl Scout pinboard!) and a reading list to go with each badge that the children want to earn, and I leave at least one schoolwork slot each week solely for work on these badges, on top of the work that the kids do on them by choice in their free time. I've often wanted to push the kids to finish the last couple of lingering activities that make up a badge, just because I like to be organized and structured that way, but so far I've resisted the impulse by trying to remember that, even if they pick and choose among sixty random activities for twenty disparate badges, working on something totally different every time, the self-directed activity that they're engaged in is still useful, academic (mostly. Some of the Brownie badge activities are a little soft), and enriching.

And I hadn't otherwise planned on having Will study physics this week, so there's that!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Oregon Trail Books for Elementary Kids

Here's the rough draft of Syd's book report on A My America: A Perfect Place: Joshua's Oregon Trail Diary, Book Two:

After Syd had finished, she read it to me sentence by sentence and watched me rewrite it by hand, standardizing the spelling, grammar, and punctuation and putting it into paragraphs as I wrote. We didn't work through any more edits than that, as I was so pleased with the detail in her plot summary. She and I can talk through writing an introduction and contextualizing her information another time.

This week spells the end of our pioneer unit study. With some unit studies, I've had trouble finding enough resources to suit (History of Video Games and History of Drama unit studies, I'm looking at you!), but there were loads and loads and LOADS of resources to use in studying frontier and pioneer history. Here are some of our favorites:


I should note that while Syd read the first two fictional trail diaries and the picture books, and listened to the Jim Weiss recording and the Little House books, Will read ALL of these independently. Assigned reading is an especially effective way for Will to learn, since she's such an avid reader, and having her read these "extra" books is one of my favorite ways of leveling the same subject for two different grades.

One flaw, however, that I have just noticed as I'm recording what we read, is that our list is very, very historical fiction-heavy. The problem is that there are just so many wonderful titles in historical fiction concerning frontier history and the Oregon trail that whenever I was faced with the choice of giving a child a non-fiction book or one of these living histories, I always chose the living history.

Ah, well. There will be plenty time for fact-based research the next time our interests cycle around to the pioneers.

On a related note, I have pre-ordered this book--


--and I could not be more excited to read it in November! I hear it's going to be quite dishy...

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