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”.

Read Aloud Thursday

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If it’s the last Thursday of the month then it’s time for Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word. Check it out. This week Amy has a lot of great early readers and picture books to share.

Part of our “read-aloud” culture is audiobooks. We almost always have a current audiobook going in the car. In the past few years we’ve enjoyed listening to several series in full. The current series we are totally absorbed by is Maryrose Wood’s  The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place6609748We’ve  loved the first four in the series and finally got the fifth installation from the holds list at the library.

The plot is fairly typical of a middle grade mystery/adventure. The Victorian setting is unusual but the basic plot-line of mysterious orphans in some kind of vague danger will be familiar to readers of other juvenile stories. Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females goes to work as a governess at Ashton Place. Her three young charges are unusual: they were raised by wolves. As the books progress the mystery of just how the Incorrigibles ended up in the forest intertwines with other mysteries: What is the howling coming from the attic, Why is Lord Ashton so obsessed with his Almanac, How did Penelope end up at the Swanburne Academy as a young girl and most importantly, Exactly what is in the hair tonic that the Swanburne headmistress insists that Miss Lumley use?

However, although the plot is somewhat unexceptional, there is much about this series that is truly exceptional. The characters are quirky but never snarky. There are frequent asides about topics as varied as synonyms and ferns and the dodo. Like the best Victorian literature, the reader is often addressed directly. There are running gags (like the fact that Miss Lumley or the children often imagine a modern invention like the phone or airplane but then are too busy to pursue actually inventing it.) The Incorrigibles themselves are model students if you are a teacher who wants students who are energetic, creative, and eager to learn. They may be distracted by squirrels but they are always ready for whatever lesson their beloved Miss Lumawoo has planned for them.

If you like slightly quirky books with a touch of mystery and a lot of sweetness underneath the off-beat humor, I highly recommend this series.

 

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.

Read Aloud Thursday

read-aloud-1-300x300 Amy is back with Read Aloud Thursday! It’s a great place to get recommendations for books to read with your kids. She has a fantastic recommendation today for a math picture book that I’m going to add to our list.

We read less and less picture books together as a family. This makes me sad sometimes, but it’s also because my kids are reading more and more on their own. So it’s more bittersweet than bitter. This month I got all the Cybils fiction picture book nominees out of the library and read them with various combinations of kids. (Mostly with the 7 and 10 year old. But my 13 year old still always reads all the picture books in the basket on his own even if he’s not around when we read them together.)

My favorite of the nominees was Brendan Wenzel’s They all Saw a Cat. A cat travels 28101612through the world “with its whiskers, ears and paws….” and encounters a dog, a child, a bird, a bee, a fox, a mouse, a snake, a fish, a flea, a skunk, a worm and a bat. Each page shows how the different creature sees the cat. We see differences in perspective (a bird’s eye view) and differences in how animals see (the snake sees in heat waves) and differences in perception (the mouse sees the cat as a huge scary beast). The text is simple and repetitive but the illustrations elicited a lot of good conversation from my kids about the way each creature “saw”. Bonus points because the repetitive refrain reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda.

Honorable mentions for me would go to:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

Cummins’s book is funny and unexpected. And vaguely disturbing (comment by my 10 year old vegetarian son). Collins’s Bear and Mouse reminded me of the Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker’s fantastic series of books except that in this case it’s the Mouse that is the curmudgeon of sorts. And Mantchev’s book about a boy with a tiny elephant pet who is left out of the neighborhood pet club is sweet and funny.

Our current family read-aloud is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s been fun to read these out loud. The boys have read them on their own but this is the first time through for Ruth and we are enjoying sharing the world of Harry with her. We also listened to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as our most recent audiobook. We have multiple audiobooks on hold as our next potential listen but I’m not sure what to do next as our next read aloud. Any suggestions?

And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more reading aloud!

 

Scenes from a Wetlands Walk

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Seen: Two Great Blue Herons, Five or Six different kinds of turtles and too numerous to count Canada Geese. We also think we saw some Red Headed Woodpeckers but they were high in the trees and we didn’t really see the distinctive heads very well. We wouldn’t have even known to look but a very nice birder on the trail stopped us to point out the distinctive sound and to tell us that they had been spotted.

We’re still technically on break and not “doing” school until next week. However, on our walk in addition to looking at the birds we discussed prime numbers, Charles Lee and the duel in Hamilton, the nature of heaven (with Ruth after she asked me what I thought I would do the first time I saw God) and hibernation. There was also a lot of Narnia and Harry Potter discussion due to our recent and current read-alouds. When I got home this morning the boys were replicating Galileo’s famous gravity experiments by dropping objects off the stairs to see which landed first. This was because David had been reading about gravity in his Science Encyclopedia. Over break we’ve also had spontaneous discussions about iambic pentameter (thank you Incorrigible Children), mythology and even grammar.

I have no way of knowing if other families find themselves discussing math and grammar and gravity over breakfast. It seems normal to us. I suspect that homeschooling makes this more common because we are used to school and life all being one rather than in separate spheres. It’s one of the many advantages to learning as a family.

 

And more Christmas Books…

 Susan Jeffers’s The Twelve Days of Christmas is pretty much exactly what you would expect and that’s a good thing. The text is mostly just the familiar song. The illustrations are the lush colorful paintings typical of Jeffers complete with plenty of glitter. Jeffers adds a bit of a story to the carol, told mainly through the illustrations and a little bit of added text. A girl named Emma breaks her snow globe and is transported to a magical land by Santa. If you have a girl who enjoys other Jeffers books, she will likely be delighted by this one as well.

We love the Duck books by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. This Christmas edition is just as fun and goofy. Duck as usual is up to his old tricks and manages to get all the animals stuck in Farmer Brown’s chimney. Luckily there is someone coming who can save the day!

Our Christmas book basket has become our favorite Advent tradition. (As I might have mentioned once or twice or a hundred times.) Some days we read funny books (like Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! )Some days we read beautifully illustrated books. Some days we read books with favorite characters. Some days we read books that make me cry.  Some days we read books that remind us all of the real reason for Advent.

So far what has been the most memorable book of the season is one that is none of those things. In fact, it is memorable mainly for being so bizarre that we all couldn’t stop laughing from the sheer weirdness of it. Christmas at the Toy Museum by David Lucas is just weird. The story is basically that the toys have no presents to unwrap so they decide to wrap themselves. Then they take turns unwrapping each other and being excited. Alert readers may have discovered the problem with this plan. What does the last toy that gets unwrapped have to unwrap? Perhaps it’s enough to say that my 13 year old loved this book because of it’s so awesomely stupid (his words) and couldn’t wait for me to blog about it. I’ll leave it at that.

New (to us) Christmas Basket Books

18342011A few of the new-to-us books in our Advent Book Basket this year. Kate Westerlund’s The Message of the Birds is a sweet simple story about the birds of the world spreading the message of Christmas to the children of the world. It bothered me a bit that the message of Christmas becomes distilled down to Peace on Earth. That is part of the message but not the whole message. I don’t mind secular Christmas books but ones that are a watered down version of the real story do bother me. The illustrations by Feridun Oral are beautiful, especially if you like birds. My kids also really liked the last page that featured a word cloud of the word Peace in many different languages. We’ve been to several Christmas events this Advent season with different languages featured which has stirred   a general interest/awareness of languages in the kids and this was a nice addition to that.

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Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree
 is the newest addition to the Lori Nichols’s Maple and Willow series about two young sisters. I really like this series because I think is a perfect example of what has become rare in children’s fiction: simple non-quirky, non-snarky stories about real kids.  This Christmas addition is just as sweet as the other books. The girls are thrilled to get their first REAL Christmas tree but then it turns out Maple is allergic to the tree. They figure out a way to make Christmas special. Another thing I like about this series is that Lori Nichols gets the relationship between sisters perfectly. It’s sweet but not unrealistically sugary sweet. My favorite dialogue: “I’m sorry for ruining Christmas”. (Maple)  “I’m sorry you ruined Christmas too.” (Willow). As the parent of three kids, I could completely hear that being said in our house by siblings that love each other (most of the time).

24904391The Reindeer Wish is another book that is part of a series, although we hadn’t read the others. The story is by Lori Evert and features breathtaking photographs by her husband Per  Breiehagen of their daughter Anja. The story is fairly predictable: Anja discovers a baby reindeer and raises it but then must one day realizes he would be happier living with other reindeer. So she delivers him to Santa to live and work with Santa’s sled team. The photographs are amazingly beautiful though and will make even the most snow-hating person want to move to a Nordic country to live.

 

17349000Another book that we enjoyed more for the illustrations than the story was Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno (illustrations by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer) . That is probably due more to my kids ages than the book itself. This was a straight-forward telling of the familiar story of the Three Bears but with Santa Claus instead of Goldilocks. The illustrations are fun with lots of details. Recommended for families with preschoolers as fun Christmas reading.

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