Friday, February 5, 2016

An Ode to Gracie

Will deeply desires a dog of her own, and we're hoping to make that happen this summer, but this particular spoiled grey tabby of ours is pretty much Sydney's best friend and soulmate:

She is to be found wherever the children are, often sleeping inconveniently exactly where you'd rather be, but under Syd's dictate, you are not permitted to disturb her, lest that make her uncomfy:

In warm weather, she insists upon being outside with the children, and will even follow us on hikes: 

When the children go outside to play in poor weather, however, Gracie stands at the window and watches them, meowing plaintively. It's pretty pathetic.

Mostly, however, you'll find her somewhere like this:

And yes, she will let Syd dress her up. Here, she's serving as the mascot for Syd's online Girl Scout cookie shop (which you should ask me for the link for, so that you can buy some cookies from her. She takes credit cards! And ships across the US!):

And, yes, she even has her own theme song:

We WILL launch our Hunt for the Best Dog Ever this summer, because I promised the kid, and it's something that she wants very much, and frankly, it's probably something that she needs very much, as well, but I'm nervous about it on several fronts. Will we find a dog that won't eat the chickens? Will we successfully train it not to pee in the house? Will its existence be a giant pain in the ass?

But also... will it, could it, how could it ever possibly be as perfect, as deeply loved, as integral a part of our family as our beloved Spots and Gracie are?

Although I do look forward to one day hearing Will make up and sing a theme song to her dog...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An Ode to Coloring

That's another thing that the kids have been doing for hours lately! Syd especially, but also often Will, seem deeply content to spend much of an entire day simply listening to audiobooks and coloring. When they were small, I despised coloring books, as I felt that they deprived the children of their creativity, and the kids do often make their own drawings--

--but I have since come to suspect, as has most of the world, if the rise in popularity of adult coloring books can be trusted, that there is something particularly satisfying, in an almost meditative way, about just... coloring.

And that's why we often spend our time exactly here, doing exactly this:

I tend to sneakily saturate our coloring and listening with educational selections. Fortunately, the audio version of Joy Hakim's The History of Us is quite well done, so much so that Syd, my main listener/colorer, will usually choose to keep feeding discs into the stereo in order to listen to the entire book, if I start her off with it. She also just finished listening to Harriet the Spy on CD, and right this second, actually, is sitting in the playroom windowseat, petting the cat, and listening to the Land of Stories series on Playaways.

Note: I will tolerate her telling me the entire plot of Land of Stories, even though that probably takes longer than it would just to listen to them, but I require her to listen to Land of Stories on headphones, because I. Cannot. STAND. THEM!!!!!!!!!


Syd is as voracious a consumer of audiobooks as Will is of print books, so I should probably stop right here and share with admit to you all of the audiobooks that we currently have checked out from the library for her:


Yes, that list is for real. Mind you, some of those titles are ones that she chose for herself, and some are titles that I'm strewing for her to find. And that doesn't count the audiobooks that I have for myself, of course--something dry on Jamestown and an alternate history of the American Revolution. Super fun, right?

The kids are also quite tolerant of my sneaky stacking of their coloring book collection with educational titles. Here's their shelf of coloring and puzzle books:

And yep, 99.9% of those are educational. My favorite publishers are Dover, Bellerophon, and Peterson, and if I ever find a clean copy of one of those books at a second-hand shop--you'd be surprised how often that happens!--I will buy it, no matter its subject. Dover and Bellerophon are especially nice, since they have coloring books on fictional themes, but with a factual background. For instance, Will is super into dragons, and still colors from this Dover coloring book on dragons that I bought her in 2012 (Pro tip: I make my kids photocopy the page that they want to color. They can choose regular paper or cardstock, but they color that copy, leaving the coloring book clean for unlimited use!). It's got a different picture of a dragon on every page, WITH text that describes that dragon's place in mythology or culture. It's dragons AND learning! This Bellerophon coloring book of unicorns (which Amazon tells me that I bought on the same day as I bought the dragons one) is formatted identically.

Will also really likes the Color Yourself Smart book of dinosaurs, although unfortunately none of the other titles in that series are anywhere near that exciting. Get some more books on animals, medieval history, and astronomy, Color Yourself Smart!

Beyond the purely educational coloring books, the kids and I are also drawn to the often abstract, often VERY highly detailed "adult" coloring books. The kids' grandmothers have given them several of the Creative Haven coloring books, and I think that Syd and I are both working on one here:

 Oh, and I JUST finished this page from the Color Me Cluttered coloring book (which I actually received for free from a publicist--how fun is that, getting supplied with coloring books just for being me?):

I've actually got a few coloring pages that I'm working on. I tend to sit down to join the kids with whatever they're doing, so if they're coloring with markers, I work on my paisley page--

--and if they're working with colored pencils, I have my Harry Potter coloring book that I just started: 

I started it on the road, as it was a Christmas gift from my aunt and I started coloring in it about ten minutes after she gave it to me. That's why I'm coloring this page IN the book. From now on, I'll copy the page that I want to color, just like everyone else.

Of course, one mustn't forget the internet as a source of coloring material. Syd is a BIG fan of doing a Google image search for coloring pages, because that's just about the only way that the poor little lamb can color her pop culture loves, whether it's superheroes or Barbie or My Little Pony. Will sometimes jumps in for more dragon coloring pages, but mostly it's Syd and a million different versions of Pinkie Pie's Cupcake Party or whatever.

Okay, enough about coloring. While Syd is listening to audiobooks and Will is lying on the floor reading, I need to go make a database of Girl Scout cookie booth sign-ups, organize cookie deliveries for this afternoon, wash Syd's ballet leotard, find a base pattern for her fashion show garment, start on a massive birthday candle order that I've been procrastinating on for a solid week now, steam mop the kitchen floor, and start an altered book page greeting card tute for Crafting a Green World.

I said that the kids would have a restful week this week, NOT me.

Monday, February 1, 2016

An Ode to Geomags

Note: No, there are no weekly work plans this week! Near the end of last week, I began to suspect that in my own desire to stay busy to distract myself from my grief over Pappa, I've been over-scheduling the children, as well. I mean, I certainly have less time to feel sad when there's a full day of schoolwork every day AND an hours-long field trip AND a playdate AND a class or extracurricular to drive to AND some time spent shilling for cookie orders on the way there or back.

And the children, my good sports, did actually manage to get most of their schoolwork done, even so, but I began to see them gently reacting to my over-planning in probably the best way that a child can: with play. I'd go to tell them that it was time to begin schoolwork for the day, to find one or both deeply immersed in their toys, and I'd back off. Hours later, there they'd still be, happily playing. You know that I rarely disturb a focused child, so it was certainly the most efficient and least confrontational way for them to get more time for themselves.

We're going to keep that up this week, I think. I'm still going to require the kids to do their math every day, and work on their memory work (Mandarin started again last week!), and I have a selection of odd little projects--another Nature documentary that I've been wanting them to watch, thank-you letters for Christmas presents, extension recipes from Your Kids: Cooking, homemade Valentines for an exchange next week, etc.--of which I'll ask the children to choose one and I'll choose one for them each day, and, of course, there are still plenty of extracurriculars and loads of Girl Scout cookie selling, but ideally, this project-focused week will give us a chance to rest, reset, and refocus on next week.

One of the toys that was played with the most last week was the Geomags. I think that I've written about these before, and that's because they're perennial favorites, one of the few toys that have been loved right out of the box and universally for years.

They're pricey as hell, but totally worth it for us, since they're also played with so well. Every now and then, I'll add to the kids' collection for some holiday or other--Syd, for instance, received the pink Geomags set one Christmas, and I think another Christmas brought them the professional set. Here's basically what we have so far:

Several weeks ago, the kids became interested in using the Geomags to build anti-gravity and "perpetual motion" machines, inspired in great part by this anti-gravity spinner and this perpetual motion machine. Syd worked on building a triangular prism that would sit suspended inside this cube construction--

--while Will actually got her anti-gravity spinner to work!

The kids are both also really interested in building pyramids--when we first got these Geomags, and for years afterwards, they'd build a simple pyramid that they could transform into a "scooter dog," and they'd make it and then play pretend games with it. I haven't seen scooter dog in a long time, but I have seen several of these lying around:

No, she's not sleeping. She's just lying on the floor, chilling out and thinking thoughts.
Another interesting thing that I've noticed lately is Syd's desire to sort the metal marbles on top of the colored panels. I'm not sure what she's exploring with this, but she does it over and over, so something fascinating must be going on with it in her brain:

For the kids' next birthdays, I'm pretty sure that I'll be giving at least one of them a new Geomag set, as I've been noticing that the kids have sometimes been using ALL of the Geomags in their constructions. Here are my top contenders:

Right now, coloring books are also on the birthday wish-lists, as right this second, finished with two brief playdates with friends (while their moms and I sorted Girl Scout cookies) and our volunteer gig, procrastinating on her math, and about to be asked to help me make dinner, Syd is once again sitting at the table, listening to Harriet the Spy on audiobook and coloring.

She's just as busy as she needs to be.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rock Climbers

We have gone three times in the past three weeks, and we are in love:

And yes, I get to climb, too! Although on the field trip with our homeschool group I stuck to belaying all the children, on the field trip with my Girl Scout troop Matt was able to come, as well, so he and I could take turns belaying each other:

I HIGHLY recommend rock climbing. In fact, I can't believe that we haven't gone before this! It's great exercise, in that it's both accessible (no matter how out of shape you are, you can get at least a little way up the wall) and super-challenging, it's an excellent family bonding activity, it wears the kids out so that they sleep really well that night...

...and it's fun!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of January 25, 2016

Last week, I was singing the praises of Monday holidays, not quite remembering that we had another one this week!

It wasn't a stay-at-home Monday holiday, but rather a skiing-all-day-with-our-friends Monday holiday. And it. Was. Wonderful. Can I just say again how happy it makes me that as homeschoolers, we've finally found our people?

It's a VERY good feeling.

I hope, then, that this week's short week goes as well as last week's short week. Although they take much more time, our hands-on projects, in particular, are well worth the extra effort. Just this morning, sitting and coloring their Mayflower map project while listening to Making Thirteen Colonies, Syd told me that this exact thing, listening to an audiobook while coloring, is her favorite thing to do.

Happy kid, doing her favorite activity as part of school.

Here's another favorite activity that she did for school last week:

Syd decided that her Project of the Week last week was to bake and decorate a cake. The cake is just a boxed mix, and the frosting is from a can, but look at that decoration!

I'd say she definitely has a passion for food.

Another hands-on project that turned out fabulously was this Quick Six elements game:

We cut out and colored the cards while listening to Test Tube podcasts--more coloring while listening! I changed the rules of the game by including one black and white Periodic Table; when you slap your element, you also get to color it in your color. At the end of the game, I also declared winners in random Periodic Table categories--the kid who'd colored the uppermost and lowermost elements, the kid with the most elements in a row, etc. Both kids are fascinated by the Periodic Table of Elements, so even though we're moving on to molecules this week, we'll keep playing with elements.

And finally, even though I wrote an entire post about how much we love this paper model of Jamestown, here are a couple more pictures I took when I found Syd playing with the houses again the other day:

They are absurdly cute. When we're done with the colonies, this model is totally going on the play shelves with Syd's dolls and other small toys.

Syd's Project of the Week this week is to come up with her Trashion/Refashion Show design, because yes, it's that time again. Will really just wants to play on the computer this week, so her Project of the Week is to "evaluate" the links on my Educational Links page; I'm hoping that she finds something in particular that piques her interest and inspires her to further exploration.

Books of the Week include several books on China (that's the country that my Girl Scout troop is representing next month at the Girl Scout Geography Fair), a couple of chapter books for Syd (hoping to pique HER interest!), and a couple of living books about flight for Will, to encourage her particular area of interest.

This week's sensory material is the light table. For some reason, I can't find what I did with the translucent pattern blocks after the last time that we used them, so I've been bringing out random things to play with every day--Geomags, lenses, colored sand, etc. I've been surprised to see that Will hasn't taken a ton of interest in these sensory offerings, since exposing her, in particular, to them was my primary motivation. Syd, however, does take a ton of interest, and Will does look up from her novel in hand to engage in them enough that continuing my offerings is justified. I need to sit down and make a plan, however, as scrounging around on a Sunday afternoon for sensory materials is not my favorite thing.

And here's the rest of our week!

TUESDAY: I ended up assigning too much work on this day, as I didn't anticipate that we'd spend four full hours at the rock climbing place just a day after our all-day ski trip... but we did! I did require the kids to do their math and cursive and start their history, but we're finishing that history project this morning, and we'll start working on the documentary today.

For math, Syd is still working on her Math Mammoth unit on length and measurement--there's some good calculating going on, and I'm pleased to see that it's going smoothly, which means that Syd has, indeed, mastered those skills. Yay! Will's review in Math Mammoth last week led to me actually assign her some more work on dividing fractions on this day, so she'll review some more today, and then hopefully be able to move on to geometry, where I think she'll be VERY happy to find herself.

Instead of their cursive workbooks, this week the kids will be copying a William Bradford quote every day--the bottom one here. Not only do I hope that this will cause them to naturally remember the quote, but it's also a good test of how much cursive they're retaining. Will already pitched a fit when it became clear to me that she didn't remember how to make a cursive capital B, but after much explanation that the ability to make a cursive capital B is required before she can go on to more pleasant things in life, she complied... eventually. And now she's sitting on the floor happily eating deli chicken and brie and reading, so the task didn't crush her spirit, after all.

We're also STILL working on memorizing "No Man is an Island" this week. The problem is that the children don't really like the poem, sigh. The curriculum does warn that it has a weak rhyme scheme, but I hadn't expected them to be so put off by that, and I, personally, find the last two lines of the poem powerful. We're mostly there, though, so I'm making them muscle on through, but I'll look harder at the next poem that I think about assigning them to memorize.

I also switched our days for history and home ec after I wrote these plans, because we didn't have macaroni yesterday. Now we have macaroni, so we'll cook today, as well.

WEDNESDAY: The history project that the kids are completing while listening to Making Thirteen Colonies is the Mayflower map from Interactive 3D Maps: American History. There are several interactive maps in this book that I think that we'll be doing for our American Revolution unit--I'm particularly looking forward to the map of Paul Revere's ride!

Way back in the summer, my Girl Scout troop voted for Syd's service project proposal, which was to make a documentary/commercial promoting our local Humane Society. I've pushed it to the back burner for far too long, so my two will start beta testing the project this week with what is hopefully our final evolution of the idea: short films that focus on pets adopted from the animal shelter and that include the encouragement to adopt your own pet there, as well. Will is not happy that the troop voted for her sister's plan, so she's going to practice being a sister to every Girl Scout and also work on her Cadette Digital Moviemaker badge. Syd, as well as leading the service project, will be using it to complete some of the requirements of her Junior Animal Habitats badge. The goal is that after my two have successfully completed a documentary on our own Spots and Gracie, they'll screen the documentary for the rest of the troop, then lead the other girls in making their own documentaries about other pets adopted from the shelter.

Our second lesson in the Your Kids: Cooking curriculum is macaroni and cheese--yum! Even though I *just* said that we'd do it today, just after I said that, I received a spontaneous invitation for the kids to go bouldering with a friend, so they're doing that instead. Macaroni and cheese is easily enough made on the weekend, if it doesn't get made on a Wednesday.

And so are pet documentaries, now that I think about it...

THURSDAY: I am SO excited for science today! After studying atoms and elements, the kids will be learning how they combine into molecules and create chemical reactions. We'll demonstrate this by exploring the way that H2O2 longs to break down into H20 and 0. In other words, we're going to make elephant toothpaste!!!

It's going to be AWESOME!

This NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Project lesson today may decide if we continue with the curriculum or try something else for writing. So far, the lessons have all been about identifying and evaluating novels, and the kids have completed them not at all enthusiastically, but not actually reluctantly, either. If they're willing to think about and create a main character just as willingly, with or without enthusiasm, then I'll trust that the curriculum has hooked them, and we're off to write our novels! If they balk, then we'll try out something else for composition and come back to this unit another time.

Again, though, we've also got a just-scheduled playdate on this day, so I won't be super surprised if we're too busy to finish school. Schoolwork is important, but so are friends and rock climbing and skiing and spontaneous playdates.

FRIDAY: The election unit IS a big hit, especially with Will. She has always been into politics, and she's really seeming to enjoy these assignments. This week's reading is about the products of campaigns--advertisements, endorsements, interviews, debates--so the kids will research examples of these from our current candidates.

Last week, the kids did coloring pages of the female and male reproductive anatomy while I forced them to watch the relevant Crash Course videos. The videos turned out to be way over their heads with scientific explanations, but we watched them together, anyway--I never know what will stick, especially with Will, and anyway, I wanted the information, myself. Because the videos were so difficult, however, I want one more lesson to cement the female reproductive anatomy before we move into the process of menstruation, so on this day we'll be making some festive salt dough models of the female reproductive system.

And yes, I'm super hoping that they'll be adorable.

Also on the sculpture theme, the kids have a clay building class on this day. If they're allowed to build from their imaginations, I hope that they don't choose to build female reproductive systems!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Ballet, ice skating, and Mandarin on Saturday, and *maybe* we're also going to the Varsity Vocals Quarter Finals, because Will and I are major dorks who looooooove watching show choirs. There. I said it.

On Sunday, then, after such an epic week, I am fully committed to spending the day in my pajamas, and getting as much of the rest of the family as I can to go along with me on this.

As for me, this week I've got a HUGE etsy order to work on, some writing assignments to complete per usual, more Girl Scout stuff to plan and organize, the playroom to reorganize now that all the massive shelves are built--yay!--and a couple of craft books to make projects from so that I can review them.

But not on Sunday, though. Sunday I'll be in my pajamas, watching Youtube videos of all the great show choirs that I saw compete the previous night...

Friday, January 22, 2016

American Revolution Unit Study: Jamestown Paper Model and History of Us

After our unit on Hawaii/vacation to Hawaii, I am ALL ABOUT conducting a major unit study that culminates in a road trip on that theme.

Our next big unit study/road trip?

The American Revolution!

I'm super excited, because I LOVE traveling, as do the kids. I've also promised them many Junior Ranger badges, one of their favorite things about traveling, and the fact that we have Syd's free Every Kid in a Park national parks pass is cake AND icing AND candy decorations on top!

I'm still in the early planning stages of our road trip, but if you want to see what I've got so far--and especially if you want to make suggestions about where else we should go!--then you can check out my Roadtrippers route here. Even though I've got Assateague Island National Seashore on the route, as it's less than an hour from Washington, DC, we're really probably not actually going to go further south than DC (I SUPER want to see the wild ponies again, but the kids and I *have* already been there...), which means that we won't actually see Jamestown, Virginia, in person.

All the better, then, to make a model of it!

For background information and historical context, we're moving quickly through Joy Hakim's Making Thirteen Colonies, before we begin with studying the American Revolution itself. We'll use Hakim's From Colonies to Country as our spine for that, and then finish up with The New Nation. After that, we may continue with US history, or may move on to a different historical subject altogether--we'll see!

Anyway, for history this week we listened to the first four chapters of Making Thirteen Colonies. Sidebar: I LOVE that both Story of the World and History of Us have audiobook versions. Their narrative style works well as audio, and it allows the entire family to absorb the same material, while working on a related hands-on project, such as coloring pages or the model-making that we did here.

These chapters cover a wide swath of historical background on the Age of Exploration that we'll dive deep into another time, but they also discuss the founding of Jamestown, and that's what we focused on here. My goal was to familiarize the children with the basic structure and organization of a typical colonial town, so I had the kids each play through the Jamestown Online Adventure, and then we worked together as a family to create this paper model of Jamestown.

The kids did all the coloring (we LOVE Prismacolor colored pencils, although lately I've tried replacing a few of the stubs with the Dick Blick brand, to see if I like them enough to switch. I remain undecided) and cutting out--

--and I helped only by assembling the fiddly outer wall myself. Pro tip: Use hot glue instead of the white glue or tape that the tutorial calls for.

Here is a testament to how fun this project is:

WILL cut out every single house and assembled them. Happily! Frankly, this is the first time that I have ever seen my 11-year-old lefty cut anything with precision. Her scissors skills, up until this very moment, have been tragic, largely because although I have always provided her with left-handed scissors, she has always insisted on attempting to cut right-handed, and she is in no way naturally ambidextrous enough to have accomplished it before. As with her print handwriting, which she also learned there, and is also terrible, I suspect that her Montessori preschool/kindergarten did not focus enough attention on teaching her proper left-handed techniques. I have spent years--and am still spending those years!--working with her on her cursive handwriting, so knowing that time and maturity is improving her scissors skills is a huge relief.

As for the reason why she enjoyed cutting out and assembling these houses so much?

They. Are. ADORABLE!!!

Seriously, I know that this is meant to be a paper model and accuracy is key, of course, but this paper Jamestown is one of the cutest things that we have ever created. It's wee and the houses are sweet. You don't have to glue them down, so you can play with them and rearrange them. It's a terrific little small world that, if you've got young ones who love such play, would be worth making FOR them, simply so they could have it to enjoy:

Each of us has been found with our head on the table, peering in the little doors. It's enchanting.

The kids have already used it for pretend play--here, you'll see the game entitled Gracie is Godzilla--

--and although it's still on our school table, after we move on from Jamestown I'll put tiny Jamestown on the shelves in the playroom where I keep the children's small world toys. I think they're going to be playing with this one a lot!

P.S. We're not using many more resources to study Jamestown, but here are some more that I found in my research:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Kid Cooks Nerdy Nummies

Hallelujah, because Syd loves to cook!

Syd's an adventurous cook who loves to try ambitious new recipes, and even though she suffers from perfectionism in her schoolwork and many other pursuits, she happily has a much higher tolerance for failure in the kitchen. She likes to invent her own recipes and see how they turn out, she likes to cook from a recipe book, and she very, very, VERY much likes to decorate her sweet creations with frosting and candy.

I was a little worried when Syd chose, for her Project of the Week last week, to make a couple of the recipes from Nerdy Nummies, a copy of which we have checked out from our public library. The recipes look very adorable, but every single one includes a lot of those decorative fiddly details that I just have no patience with.

Fortunately, Syd has all the patience for decorative fiddly details!

Here she is making the manna and health potions, substituting Kool-aid (I know, I know...) for the raspberry and blueberry syrup that the recipe calls for:

She poured the Kool-aid into little bottles, just as the recipe shows, and even made little labels for them, but the recipe also calls for half-and-half or cream or something to be poured on top, and that step just flat-out doesn't work when you're using Kool-aid instead of syrup and soda--the dairy sort of congealed into a disturbing, blobby mess at the bottom.

Oh, well. We just drank the Kool-aid!

The robot brownie pops, on the other hand, turned out SUPER cute. We had a lot of trouble with the candy melts, as they never did melt enough to dip the brownie pops in as the recipe shows (and Syd actually scorched a batch trying to get them melty enough), but once I just took a knife and frosted each one for her with the candy melts, gritting my teeth because she also didn't put the sticks in far enough and they wanted to fall apart from the weight of the frosting, then Syd was able to do what, for her, was the whole point of the activity:

Making robots!!!

Did they not turn out adorable?!? And they actually weren't hard to make, just fiddly, and I definitely need to do some more research on candy melts that are actually dippable.

Syd's Project of the Week this week is to bake another cake and decorate it, likely with even more candy. This is clearly her area of interest right now, so I'm also researching this week more ways to engage and support her. If you've got tips for hackschooling cake decorating or recommendations for quality kid-friendly baking and decorating supplies, please let me know!


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