Marbled Flowers

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For a fairly quick art project this week, we made these spring flowers using the marbled paper from a few weeks ago. I got the idea for the project from Deep Space Sparkle. The directions are simple. Using a piece of  construction paper folded in half, we cut a vase out along the fold of the paper. We then cut out the flower centers, petals, and stems from the marbled paper and then we glued flowers and vase onto a larger sheet of construction paper. I did suggest to the kids that they arrange all the shapes on the page before gluing so that they could figure out how they wanted it to look before committing.

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David chose to glue his petals in a way that they curled off the page, giving a 3-D effect. I also liked that his finished result is very asymmetrical on the page.

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Ruth found the cutting and glueing to be a little more challenging that David. It was a good project for her because it worked on skills that she hasn’t mastered. It also was inherently more freeform than some other art projects. She’s a bit of  a perfectionist so I always like giving her art projects that encourage her to not worry about “getting it right”.

Homeschooling High School

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John is 8th grade this year. That means that we are right on the edge of a scary, yet exciting step in our family life. Yes, I mean high school. We’ve always said that beyond a certain age that the decision to homeschool (or not) is up to the each individual child. John has chosen to continue homeschooling through high school. I’m excited about that. And nervous. So, I’m doing a lot of research and thinking about curriculum. I’m also finding that the response from other people is similar to what I heard 9 years ago when we began this journey. I think a lot of people can imagine homeschooling a 1st grader but when it gets to high school they can’t imagine what that would be like. And in all honesty, since I haven’t done it yet, I can only guess what it will be like. But I thought I’d answer some of the many questions I’ve been getting recently.

How do “they” know that you’re doing all the required classes?
The answer to that depends on the state you live in. We happen to live in a state with very minimal requirements. So for us, the answer is really that there aren’t any required classes. I do have to notify the state at the beginning of the year about our plans to homeschool and tell them our basic curriculum. We also need to do some kind of end of year evaluation to show progress. But we don’t have to follow the same curriculum as the public schools.

That said, most homeschoolers I know do try and have their high schooled students meet the same rough requirements as public schooled kids for the sake of college. So if most students in your state take four years of history, it’s probably a good idea to not do only 1 or 2 years. But you don’t really have to study the same material that they do in public school.

What about PE?
This is sort of the same question as above but it seems to get asked separately. I think there are some states where homeschoolers do have to document PE as well as other specific requirements. We don’t have to do that so I don’t plan on doing any kind of formal PE. Being active and exercising are different. John is a year-round swimmer and active with Scouts. He bikes and hikes and is fairly active. So in my mind PE already has a nice checkmark by it.

What about socialization?
Ok, no one actually asks that question in those words. They did back when we were starting out in kindergarten. But now the question is asked in different ways: What about prom? What about hanging out with friends? What about sports?

I wrote a long time ago that socialization is not the non-issue that some homeschoolers might say it is. As my kids have gotten older I’ve also realized that their need for social interaction varies widely. John is an introvert, like me. He has a good small group of friends but he isn’t someone who needs (or wants) to be with people all day long. As he’s gotten older we’ve purposely invested more time in activities that enable him to deepen his relationships with his closest friends.

Also, it won’t come as a shock to other homeschoolers, but there is a homeschool version of just about every high school social activity. Our co-op has a student government, a yearbook, a graduation ceremony, a very active drama group, a high-level speech and debate club and multiple social events yearly. There are multiple homeschool proms in the area and multiple different organizations that offer varsity level homeschool sports.

How will you teach Math? And Science?
I get this question a LOT. Ironically, these are the two subjects I worry about the least. For me the question is more how to teach a foreign language. Or writing. Or music. But it’s the same idea. How do you teach a subject that you are not an expert in?

There are oodles of options for homeschoolers who don’t feel able to teach a particular subject themselves. There are co-ops. There are online classes meant for homeschoolers. There are also other online or non-traditional classes meant for anyone. There is dual enrollment at a community college. There are tutors.

Different families use outside options to a different extent. Some families outsource almost all of their high school classes. Others teach almost everything at home. We will likely use a mix. Next year, John will continue to do Latin online with the same provider that he did Latin I with this year. His Math program is AOPS which is meant to be done independently. He loves it and it’s a great fit for him so we will continue to use it. I plan on having him do science at our co-op even though I’m comfortable teaching it at home. We happen to have some excellent high-school science teachers at the co-op and it’s a good way to lighten my teaching load a bit. The other classes for next year are more up in the air. Right now the plan is to do them all at home (rather than outsourced) but I’m researching options.

And the implied question…Isn’t it weird for a teen to want to be home?
No one has exactly asked this. But even from other homeschoolers there is an assumption that teens in general and even more so boys don’t want to be home with their parents. And if they do, there is something slightly odd about them.

I’m not foolish enough to think that John is choosing to homeschool in order to be with me. He’s choosing it for a lot of reasons. The main one is most likely that it’s what he already knows. It’s easy to continue doing the same thing. He also knows that the amount of free time he has is far greater as a homeschooler than in a traditional school. I joke that he’s the perfect homeschooler: he works hard but likes to do it in his own way and time. But in many ways that’s true. He gets up later than most kids his age, drinks coffee, reads the paper, and then gets to work.  I briefly check in on him several times a day and then we meet for longer times during the week for deeper discussions.

I do think that John doesn’t see being home with me as a bad thing. We get along well. We have similar personalities and like a lot of the same things. That isn’t to say that things are all sunshine and happiness. He’s a 13 year old boy and nowhere near perfect. He annoys me at times and I know I annoy him. However, overall we have fun together. And he (mostly) enjoys being with his brother and sister during the day. It’s not the main reason we are choosing to homeschool but it is a nice bonus.

Stay tuned. We’ll see what I’m saying four years from now when we’re coming to the end of his time at home. I can’t say for sure what high school will bring but if it’s anything like what we’ve done so far it will be a mix of the good and the bad. Regardless, I’m looking forward to this next part of our homeschool adventure.

 

 

Marbled Paper

I am not a particularly arts and crafty person. But I have kids who love art. Ruth, in particular, loves crafts. She makes things all the time: scarves out of T-shirts, bracelets for her stuffed bunny, a  monogrammed sign for her door out of cardboard and patterned duct tape, etc. Her favorite part of the week is any kind of art project that we do. So, I’m always happy to find a project that is a new technique for us to try.

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Last week we tried this very cool marbled paper project from The Artful Parent. Like the best projects it was fairly simple and turned out beautiful results. Full instructions are at the link above but basically you put shaving foam in a pie plate or small baking dish and then drip liquid watercolor on it. You then swirl the drops together (we used a chopstick). Then you dip a piece of paper on the top and scrape the shaving cream off the paper. The result is really cool marbled paper.

img_2396We used posterboard for the paper cut into smaller squares. The edges curled quite a bit but then flattened out nicely after a few days under some books. If we did it again I might go with stiffer paper (like cardstock). We found that we could get one or two dips before it worked better to add a new color. I thought the process worked best to start with one or two colors and then add more as we went. My kids liked just to add a bunch to begin so there paper got more and more solid as they went. We then just got fresh shaving cream when it got too muddy looking. We also found it hard to scrape off the shaving cream with cardboard as in the original link. Instead I used a chopstick and then wiped off the excess with paper towels. It was a somewhat messy project for us, but since the materials were easily washable it cleaned up easily.

Afterwards, we used the paper to make Valentines for Ruth’s class at co-op. We just cut hearts out of the paper and she wrote a message on each. Then we tied the heart to a lollipop with some ribbon. It looked really cute and she was so excited to give them to her friends.

Advent Art

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One of the (many) good things about having three kids is that I can repeat projects and activities I did with the oldest years ago and they are new to the youngest member of the family.  We’ve done this Advent art project twice before and it’s become one of my favorites. It’s super simple, allows for some open ended creativity and makes a pretty finished product.

First, you take old crayons and shave them. You can do this with a crayon sharpener. We’ve also used a vegetable peeler with good results. Then you cut out a shape using white paper. The first two times we did this I had the kids first draw a simple picture on the paper and then cut around it. However, I realized that the picture gets kind of lost in the end so we skipped that step this time. Next, you place the shape you have cut out on a piece of wax paper that is bigger than the shape. Then sprinkle crayons over the paper. I don’t give a lot of instructions at this point, other than to point out that large clumps of crayon will likely turn brown in the end.

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The next step is the most fun. Place a second sheet of wax paper over top of the white paper and crayons. Then apply heat with the iron. It does not take a lot of heat to melt the crayons and have the two pieces of wax paper seal together so watch the kids carefully at this step. Finally, cut around your white paper shape , leaving a border of wax paper.

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They end up looking pretty in a window. It was a fairly grey and rainy day when we did these but they look especially nice in the sun. We also experimented this year with leaving out the white paper and just dropping crayon shavings between two pieces of wax paper. I liked the way that turned out as well. We ran out of time but I think if we do this again I would experiment more with that method.

With art projects for kids there is often a struggle between process and product. A lot of adults will talk about being more “process driven” and I agree that the value in doing art with kids is often more in the doing itself than in having a perfect finished product. But I also find that my kids like product. One of my kids in particular worries more about having the finished product look “right” even when I purposefully talk about their being no “right” answer in art.  One of the things I like about this project is that it’s so obviously open-ended and loosey-goosey that even a perfectionist kid can have fun just playing around and seeing what you end up with.

The last two times we did this:
In 2012 with a 3, 6 and 9 year old
In 2009 with a 3 year old and 6 year old

 

 

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower

31182425It’s a little late for you to enjoy this fantastic new picture book for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration but write it down on your to-be-read list for next year. Written and illustrated by P. J. Lynch this book tells the familiar story of the Mayflower crossing and the early days of Plymouth colony through the eyes of John Howland, a young indentured servant on the Mayflower. During the voyage, John is swept overboard during a storm but miraculously catches hold of a rope in the water and is pulled to safety. Along with the other Pilgrims he endures the hardships of the early years and sees many of those who sailed with him from England suffer and die. Howland initially dreams of going back to London to make a name for himself but when he finally gets the opportunity he decides to stay in the New World and make a life in this new home.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Lynch is also the illustrator of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and the paintings here have the same realistic richness.

The story is made even more appealing because it is true. John Howland was a young man on the Mayflower who fell overboard and was saved. He was a servant and later married a fellow Mayflower voyager, Elizabeth Tilley. Together they went on to have 10 children and 88 grandchildren. (Yes, you read that right. 88 grandchildren.) Apparently millions of Americans are descended from them, including many famous people.

All of my kids enjoyed this one. It’s a long picture book so probably best for older kids on their own (perhaps 4th grade and up) or for any ages as a read-aloud. The parts of the story are divided into short sections so it’s easy to read all in one setting or over the course of several days (Thanksgiving week perhaps).

To find out more:
P.J. Lynch’s website (where I discovered he is Ireland’s laureate for children’s literature)
Pilgrim John Howland Society (where you can see some of the famous Howland descendents)

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Fall Leaf Art with Deep Space Sparkle

If you aren’t already using the Art Lessons at Deep Space Sparkle in your homeschool or with your kids after school, you should be. It is a treasure trove of art activities for kids. You can buy complete lesson plans or search the website  (by topic, by artist, by technique, by grade) for something free that meets your needs. Last week I was looking for a fall art project to do with my 2nd grader and 5th grader. (As an aside, my 8th grader claims to dislike art. He often will join us and can get really into the right project. He also has a lot more other work to do and less free time, so I treat art as a free time option for him most of the time. I figure he’s had plenty of exposure up to this point and forcing him to participate isn’t going to make him enjoy it.) I went to DSS and searched under “Fall” and found this beautiful watercolor leaves project.

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First, we sketched leaves in pencil on a sheet of white watercolor paper. Then we used black glue (Elmer’s School Glue mixed with black tempera paint) to outline the leaves. The directions were to use the squeeze bottle to apply the black glue. However, our glue bottle was old and the top was completely stopped up. I found a medication syringe and we used that instead. It worked fine but probably made our glue lines thicker than intended.

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After letting the glue dry (it took a couple of days because our glue was so thick), we got out the paints. We reviewed the color wheel first and I asked the kids to paint their leaves using colors that are near each other on the color wheel. We used liquid watercolors which give really brilliant colors. We then did some catechism practice and PE at the same time (nothing like homeschooling for multitasking) to let the leaves dry a bit before painting the background. I asked them to paint the background using more of a complementary color to their leaves. (You can see below that Ruth didn’t really follow my instructions but I think hers turned our great anyway.) Before the background paint dried, we applied table salt as a resist. I had never done this but it was really easy and gave a cool batik like effect.  You just sprinkle the salt onto the wet paint and then let it dry. Once dry you gently brush it off.

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Ruth’s painting. She ignored the complementary background instructions because she wanted hers to look like leaves sitting in a pile of other leaves. I really liked that she did her own thing and I liked the way it ended up looking.

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David’s finished project. You get an idea of how vivid the liquid watercolors can be!

img_1751And mine. I was the first one to try the salt and I think I used a bit too much, but it still looks ok. The great thing about art projects like this is that it’s just fun and the process is truly as much the point as the finished product.

 

Tickled Pink about Writing

We’ve been back from our vacation for just under two weeks. It took us about a week to get over jet-lag (worsened by illness). This past week we got back into the groove of school and activities and it felt good to return to a routine.

Overall, the school year is going well. The subject that I consistently agonize over the most is writing. I’m never completely happy with what we are doing. I have about four different writing “curriculums” and we’ve used parts and pieces of all of them at different points. I’ve flirted with Bravewriter for so long that I finally broke down this year and bought The Writer’s Jungle. I haven’t actually read it yet, mind you, but it’s sitting on my desk.

However, one of the projects we’ve done this year that I’ve been the happiest about was an extra writing/language project working with idioms. I made a list of 50 different common idioms. (There are tons of these lists online; I picked from one that was geared towards middle schoolers and that I thought had a good amount of expressions that my boys didn’t know.) The first week I gave the list to my boys (5th and 8th grade) and had them come up with definitions to see how many they already knew. Then we went over the real definitions together and discussed them.

The second week I put slips of paper with the idioms on them in a jar. I had them each pick five pieces of paper and write a paragraph using those five idioms. All three kids (2nd, 5th and 8th grades) joined in. The stories were hilarious. My 8th grader (who claims to hate writing) wrote a particularly funny story using the five idioms he picked correctly and also as many idioms as he could remember literally. There was a character who literally walked on eggshells, for example.

The third and fourth weeks we kept the slips of paper in the jar and played two different games. One was a game where everyone took turns drawing an idiom and then restating it in literal terms without using any of the words in the idiom. For example: “If you live in a house made of breakable material you shouldn’t throw hard spherical objects.” The other game was idiom charades. Both were a lot of fun and a huge hit with the kids.

When we do fun things like this I end up being glad and feeling like we should do more of this kind of activity in our homeschool. But then I start to worry about things like spelling and grammar and punctuation and the FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY. Right now, we are still using somewhat of a mish-mash of formal and informal writing approaches and it’s working ok. I have another writing project (on codes) planned, but got thrown off a bit by our travel. I plan on beginning that this coming week to add a little fun into our weekly routine.

 

 

 

Scenes from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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The kids spent this past weekend at my parents. H. and I had a lovely, if much quieter than usual, time together. Quiet didn’t mean boring. We ate well, saw a couple of movies, golfed (him), read books (me), did some school planning and thinking (me). We also saw two excellent exhibits at museums: The Greeks at the National Geographic Museum and a retrospective on the work of Kehinde Wiley at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (all the photos above are from the Wiley exhibit). I would highly recommend both. The Greeks was fascinating and full of really remarkable artifacts. (Photos were not allowed so you’ll have to just believe me on that or, even better, go see for yourself.) I knew nothing about Wiley going into the exhibit at VMFA but I came out feeling like I had learned a lot. Both exhibits are around for just a bit longer so if you are in the area consider checking them out.

School Days Around the World

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We’ve been spending this school year studying about world geography and cultures. This new book by Margaret Ruurs was a fun addition to our studies. It’s a fairly simple picture book but manages to highlight both the similarities of children around the world while also showing the differences that make them unique.

We visit Tamatoa in the Cook Islands who is called to school by a wooden drum and spends recess at the whale-watching fort by the sea. We meet Annika in Denmark who goes to forest school where they spend most of their time outdoors learning. And the one we were excited about: Amy and Gwen who are homeschoolers in Alaska and say, “The world is our classroom!”.

Ruurs includes different types of schools as well as showing the diversity due to different cultures. There are public schools, boarding schools and that one homeschool. There are kids who are blind and who live in an orphanage. There are kids that go to small village schools that have to share the building with other villages. And there are kids at very large busy city schools.

You could argue that this kind of very general survey misses a lot and over-simplifies. Obviously, this is true. The one US school is the homeschool in Alaska and that is a very different experience than most US school children have. However, by focusing on specific individual kids rather than a generic “Brazilian” kid or “German” kid, Ruurs manages to drive home the idea that kids around the world have a myriad of different experiences while still all learning, playing and growing up. Of note, the endpages  mention that all the kids and families in this book are real. My kids liked knowing that. It made the different school environments that much more real to them as well. I would highly recommend this book to go along with any elementary school aged study of world cultures.

 

Africa Picture Books

21965198We recently finished a unit study on Africa (part of a larger year long world geography/cultures study). I previously shared some of the broader survey type of books we read and some of the young adult and middle grade fiction that we’ve read. We also read quite a few non-fiction and fiction picture books. Interestingly, many of the non-fiction picture books fall in the general category of “inspirational stories”.

Laurie Ann Thompson’s Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmauel Ofosu Yeboah is certainly inspirational. It tells the story of a young boy born with a severely malformed right leg who grows up to bicycle across Ghana with one leg. More than just succeeding at a challenge for himself, he aims to change the view in his country of people with disabilities as people who are worthless or cursed. It’s a beautiful story (and has also been made into a documentary) that was nominated for the Cybils this year in the non-fiction elementary/middle grade category.

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Another inspiring story and Cybils nominee is Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou
Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia.
 This one tells the story of how one woman began a campaign to clean her country of the thousands of plastic bags that were littering the countryside. She learns how to cut the plastic bags into strips, crochet them and make them into purses. You can see how they do this on this YouTube video (and there are links to purchase the bags themselves if you are so inclined). Another inspiring story of enivromental activism was Franck Prevot’s Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Maathai was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in reforestation in Kenya. 23688743

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella is not about one person’s inspiring story but instead looks at the good one donated bicycle can do. A red bicycle is loved by Leo, a boy in a small North American town. But eventually he outgrows the bike and he decides to donate it to an organization that takes bikes overseas. The bicycle is followed as it belongs first to a  young girl in Burkina Faso who uses the bike to help her grandmother bring items to the market and then as it finds a third life as a hospital ambulance.

Other Africa themed books we read and enjoyed: 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott
Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel (just one of many Anansi stories)
Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora