Friday, January 30, 2009

If I were a baby bird...

I overheard Little Brother telling Big Sister that if he were a baby bird, he would never fly out of the nest. Smart cookie - he knows when he's got a good thing!

She tried to reason with him that if he never left the nest he would freeze to death in the winter time.

He countered that he would be a baby bird in Mexico.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ordering time again

Just placed my order for RealScience4Kids Level 1 Biology. We've been really happy with Pre-level 1 Chemistry, which we are about to finish up. Real science, using the real language of science, at a level easily comprehensible to kids, coupled with experiments that utilize materials that are easy to come by - perfect. I'd like to note that this is one of a very select group of curriculum I've actually used and stuck with for any stretch of time.

Also in that category would be Singapore math, which I also place an order for today. Moving on to Primary Math 4A.

And I recently decided to give Explode the Code a try with Big Sister. Trying to fill in any gaps, and solidify some concepts in order to help improve her spelling. If nothing else, she's enjoying the workbooks.

As usual, I placed my order for all of these materials at Rainbow Resource. They're my favorite all-in-one spot to fill our homeschooling needs. Rainbow Resource is a business owned by homeschooling family, and their prices are generally less than I would pay if I were to buy directly from the publishers. Granted, I break even after shipping charges, but I still feel good knowing I'm taking my business to fellow homeschoolers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mulitplying Mayhem

edited (1/24) to add: "how embarassing to have a typo in the title of a post! bleh!"

While watching Bis Sister work on her math last night, I decided I'm not pleased with her recall speed on many of her multiplication facts. We'd been using Timez Attack quite a while ago, but she didn't care for it - she got really anxious when it came time to face the big ogres in the dungeon, to the point of nearly being in tears. That's my sensitive kid for you. The boy child thinks Timez Attack is great fun.

So I went searching the 'net to find hints and ideas for reinforcing and practicing multiplication facts. I came upon, which was just the ticket. Lots of free online games that appeal to a variety of interests. Big Sister enjoyed "Math Models" (answer enough multiplication problems, and it opens up more outfits and accessories to dress your model), and "Cone Crazy" (serve the penguins the flavor ice cream they want by answering problems correctly). Other games include trying to fling a knight over a castle wall (rather than into the wall, or the moat), whacking moles, and much, much more. Fun stuff. In addition to the games, they also have other printable activities and resources to help make those multiplication facts stick. I haven't explored much further, but it looks like they have sites for other math operations as well. I can tell is going to get a lot of use in our house!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

What an historic day! President Obama's words were as inspiring as ever, and now I'm thinking more about what I can contribute to do my part as a citizen of the world. I really hope the country can move forward from here.

The kids and I watched the President being sworn in, which meant that Little Brother was a little late to school today. I really wanted to watch it, and it was important to me that Big Sister watch it, so I didn't sweat him getting to school one minute late.

Both kids were glued to the screen while Obama took the oath - Brother let out a loud "Woo-Hoo!" when I confirmed for him that Obama was now president. Then I ran us out to the van (which I'd already scraped free of ice an hour earlier), and we listened to the Inauguration address as we drove Brother to school. I went with him to the office to get a pass to class (we just barely missed the bell), and then Big Sister and I continued to listen to the remainder of Obama's speech in the car.

In preparation for the big day, we had watched a video on the history of inaugurations at

Came home, and it was back to business as usual. We plugged away at some seatwork, and got more done then I'd planned (I should say: as much as I'd hoped we'd accomplish, but more than I expected, lol) - things have been going very smoothly in the past week or so. It probably helped that Big Sister had yet another Warriors manga book that she was eager to get started on! We have a chemistry experiment to get to this afternoon, and then just some math problems she'll do while Little Brother does homework tonight.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We interupt your homeschool schedule for this...

A while back, Big Sister had stumbled upon a Warriors graphic novel at Barnes and Noble. She really, really, really wanted the book, and despite the fact that I was skeptical of her ever reading it (many a book has come home, only to be set aside when she quickly loses interest - that's why we love the public library), I went ahead and bought it for her. She devoured it. She couldn't pull herself away. All too quickly, the story was over - and the next one in the series wasn't due out for months. I was totally excited because I assumed a huge breakthrough had been made and she would suddenly be reading everything. I was only partially right - it really was a huge breakthrough, but it didn't carry over into further reading of much else.

Thankfully the second book was released a couple weeks ago, and we were finally able to go pick it up yesterday. Again, she's glued to this book. Anything that has my kid riveted enough that she reads for two hours straight totally gets two thumbs up from me. A few weeks back (during the infamous discussion) she had expressed to me that there wasn't anything she was interested in reading. These books are obviously the exception. The words can be challenging, but she's inspired to work through them, and the drawings provide enough visual clues that she can sort it all out.

There are multiple series in the Warriors "manga" collection (I think they are more accurately described as graphic novels, or 80+ page comic books to you old folks out there). I found a good description of the first couple of books in an earlier series at the Graphic Novel Reporter.

While searching the internet, I also found more info on graphic novels and education:
"Comics in the Classroom" from UNC at Chapel Hill

Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom, for teachers and librarians (.pdf) is a great resource for answering questions about what graphic novels are, and how they benefit young readers, especially struggling readers. "Graphic novels can also help improve reading development for students struggling with language acquisition, as the illustrations provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative. When graphic novels are made available to young people, even those deemed “poor readers” willingly and enthusiastically gravitate towards these books. Providing young people with diverse reading materials, including graphic novels, can help them become lifelong readers.

The Graphic Classroom - includes reviews of graphic novels for kids, as well as links to other similar websites.

So, in short (ha, ha, ha...) I was more than willing to set aside my homeschool plans for the morning, and let my reluctant reader sit on the couch devouring "Tigerstar and Sasha: Escape From the Forest" for two hours straight. I LOVE seeing her do that.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Knock, knock, knock...

For the benefit of our relatives who have kindly ordered cookies over the phone, I thought I'd post a photo so you can get the full effect:

"Thank you for supporting Girl Scouts!"

Friday, January 9, 2009

An origami update...

Yesterday I mentioned that Big Sister had gotten ahold of an origami book I'd found. After creating a plethora of various birds and fish, today we have furniture...

Link to pictures of the flooding

Here's a link to photos of flooding in our county. To give an idea of how close we are, a large portion of our homeschool group's members live out in Carnation and Duvall (mentioned in captions of the photos). Our group isn't having LEGO club today, because the legos are housed with a member in Carnation, and there's no way in or out of the town. The good news is that the river has crested, and the water is slowly starting to recede!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Rain, rain, go away....

Not much to report here. Instead of starting the morning off with homeschooling, Big Sister and I ended up grocery shopping. We ran out of milk after I made Little Brother's oatmeal, and I didn't have anymore in the downstairs fridge. Oops. On the way to the store, I mentioned to Big Sis that some other families we know let their kids plan and prepare one dinner/week. She was very interested, and wants to get started tonight. She's making sloppy joes and tossed salad. I'm looking forward to it - not sure why I didn't consider this before!

In the process of looking for some knitting needles I knew I had stashed around here somewhere, I came across an origami instruction book. Origami is something Big Sis has talked about wanting to learn, and she was really excited when she saw the book on the coffee table. I'd also found a pack of origami paper, so she got to work right away. So far she's folded a swan, goose, duck, and fish.

Part of Little Brother's homework this afternoon was to write a list of three things that are cold. Are you ready for his list?

1. ice
2. Antarctica
3. liquid nitrogen

We saw a program at the science center last week called "Super Cool" and they used liquid nitrogen experiments to demonstrate states of matter. Apparently it left a lasting impression.

It's wet up here. Our seasonal stream through the backyard has returned. The snow is nearly all melted - just a few stray patches here and there. The road around the corner from us is closed due to flooding. Other than that, we're doing just fine. There are many nearby communities that are much, much worse off, with towns turned to islands by the rivers rising well above flood stage. Everytime this happens, I'm reminded of how thankful I am that hubby talked me out of buying a home out in Carnation!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mid-week status report

The week is going well over here. Little Brother didn't get to go to school on Monday (it snowed overnight, so the schools were on late start, and the AM kindies didn't have class), so we didn't get back to our routine quite as quickly as I'd imagined. We're easing in, though.

So far our homeschooling this week has been very "real" and relevent. Girl Scout cookie pre-sales are about to start, so we've been doing a lot of drill with the 4's multiplication facts (cookies are $4/box), and making change (something she's already pretty comfortable with, but she was having fun role-playing, so I went along with it). Mostly we've been in a holding pattern with math the last couple of months, trying to reinforce multiplication and division processes (multi-digit by single-digit multiplication, same with division, both with and without remainders).

Since it's right after Christmas, the kids have loads of thank you notes to write. Big Sister has been typing hers up on the computer. We're reviewing the basics of writing a friendly letter, grammar, and spelling, plus I'm teaching her how to use Word. She's really enjoying it, and now she wants to learn to touch type, so I'm evaluating our options as far as learn-to-type software for kids. For Little Brother's thank yous, he's drawing a picture and then dictating a short letter for me to write. Then he signs his name. He's five, I don't ask for much more. Plus his homework just increased in difficulty after the break, and I'm not going to push my luck by asking even more of him at this point.

I also changed up our spelling program a little bit. For this week's words, I wrote a short story that used each word at least once. Big Sis had to read the story, and then circle each spelling word she found. Then she wrote each word out. Reading and spelling - I love to kill two birds with one stone. Yesterday she looked up definitions (trying to get her more comfortable with the dictionary), and copied all the words again. Today she's writing sentences with her words. Her atrocious spelling is starting drive me batty, so I want to be more consistent with the spelling lessons. She is her father's daughter, so she's genetically predisposed to be a horrible speller. Intelligence and spelling ability are definitely not linked (according to MENSA hubby is a genius, he just can't spell), but as a first impression, I think poor spelling reflects negatively on a person. Granted my daughter is only 9, so it's not like she's out filling out job applications or anything, but I'd still like to try and help her improve.

We've been covering a lot of Health so far this week, too. Big Sis is starting to grow up (uh... physically), and she's asking a lot of question about puberty - what's normal? what's going to happen next? etc. I bought a book back in November, based on numerous recommendations. It's the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls and we really like it. From the description at Amazon: "It offers guidance about basic hygiene and health without addressing issues of sexuality." This aspect of it is great, as I want my 9 1/2 year old to know what's happening to her body, and what to expect, but not to take it too far. The book talks about the physical changes that come with puberty, as well as the emotional side of things. I love that it addresses how girls can take charge of their physical and emotional well-being through diet, exercise, getting enough rest. I find that really empowering - that you don't have to be a total victim to the hormonal roller-coaster of puberty. I'm really thankful for this resource to help form a foundation of understanding for the next couple of years.

I was worried about getting back to the homeschooling after the little "discussion" Big Sis and I had prior to the break, but I'm feeling much better. I like letting the happenings in our lives influence the course of our learning. This week feels much more effortless than a few weeks back. Fingers crossed that we continue this way for a while!

Monday, January 5, 2009

USA Today article: "Home schooling grows"

"The ranks of America's home-schooled children have continued a steady climb over the past five years, and new research suggests broader reasons for the appeal."

View the entire article here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The end is near!

The end of our laziness and absence of routine that has developed over the holidays, that is!

Little Brother is excited to go back to school and see his teacher. He has missed her. With all the snow, and his teacher being out for minor surgery the week before winter break, he was never able to give her the ornament he'd made. Once it's no longer hanging on the knob of my kitchen cabinet, I will finally be able to put the holidays behind us!

Taking down the stockings, decorations, and Christmas trees would probably go a long way towards helping with that, too. Oh, and if the snow could all melt away, that would be great.

Before taking a hiatus from our usual lack of routine (I think I've mentioned that I'm not a big schedule follower), Big Sister and I were at a rough spot on the homeschooling road. One day I had (gasp)... made her read (shocking, I know)... and then? I wanted her to write (horror of horrors) about what she had just read. She actually did fine with the reading - it was the writing that pushed her over the edge. The silent tears started, her shoulders slumped, her bottom lip stuck out. "I can't write!" she told me with conviction. "I don't ever want to write, and I don't want to read, either". Helpful and motivational as I am, I took this moment to say "Well I'm not going to let you grow up to be stupid, so you're going to have to just do it!" Ah, yes - not one of my finer moments.

The road blocks that stand in the way of her reading and writing are the same ones that have gotten in the way of successes and enjoyment of other activities in her life. She likes to get things right the first time, and rather than perservere over minor obstacles, she files the experiences away under the "things I can't do, or am not good at" category. She defines herself by the things which she believes she either cannot do, or is afraid to try. It doesn't help that she's also a really anxious kid, so often she has already talked herself out of being able to do something before she's even attempted it.

So as I sat there with her digging her heels in, not so much in an obstinate way, but in a way that told me she was convinced she'll never be able to do this and had given up any hope of succeeding, I tried to figure out how to snap her out of it. It didn't help that I was completely losing patience with the whole thing, as I tend be more of a "try, try again" type person. What my unhelpful inner voice wanted to scream at her was that this was a huge personality flaw on her part, and that life isn't always easy, and you can't just give up all the time. Thankfully I was able to censor that inner voice. Yet I felt I needed to convey to her that some things really are hard, but that they can be mastered through lots of determination, and that it can feel incredibly rewarding to break through something like that. I tried to explain that while reading and writing feel laborious, they will only get easier if she keeps doing those things on a regular basis. All she can see is this inbetween time - the struggle she's up against - and right now she's not motivated by what the end result will be.

There were other insights I gleaned during our conversation, but mostly it ended in frustration. Are we going to fight everyday until she realizes she's competent? This certainly wasn't my vision of homeschooling. I thought I was preserving her self-esteem by nurturing her in a supportive environment that built upon her strengths, and patiently tended and cultivated her weaknesses. I think that what I'm talking about is something that's maybe easier for a homeschooling parent to understand. I think that most people's response would be: "Well, of course you should make your kid do it. Kids don't get a choice. Why is this even an issue?", but I know what's worked for my kid in the past. In being mostly child-led over the course of our homeschooling (and parenting), being patient, and respecting her knowledge of herself (and she has proven to be very perceptive of her own readiness for things) has generally worked. I know that when we have pushed, and the timing wasn't right, then we've butted heads and made little progress. When I do get the timing right, it feels almost effortless. But now it's feeling like some areas are taking too long to develop, and I need to drag her along, willing or not.

So I've been able to pretty much ignore this whole mess the last couple of weeks. With the return to normalcy tomorrow, I've got to figure out how I'm going to proceed, and then try to be consistent. Wish me luck.