Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Week 5, day 2

Today, as predicted, the Titmouse Club theme was snakes. The kids learned that snakes have no ears and no eyelids, they got to touch a shed snake skin and rattlesnake rattles and to look closely at a snake skeleton, they made snakes with clay and sequins, they got to pet an actual snake, and we all went on a nature walk. Both kids enjoyed it thoroughly, as did I.

Having reviewed catechism and memory verses in the car, we just read the Bible story when we got home, and went on to calendar. P did her handwriting without any difficulty, I worked on helping her memorize my cell phone number, and she tried to describe in detail how one rides a bike (with training wheels). Her description ended up quite detailed. After language arts, the kids had begged me to re-read one of the library books on Mexico, which I did.

After lunch, P worked for a while braiding yarn into friendship bracelets. She has recently learned how to braid 3 strands of yarn, and enjoys choosing colours that coordinate well from my yarn stash. She hopes to sell them to raise money for a Bible translation project - if you have any interest in a braided bracelet or 5, let me know. I started a knitting project for Kid Number Three: I've made booties and a hat, and now I'm working on a matching sweater. E was remarkably patient as long as P let him choose some of the colours she was going to braid, but he really wanted to make ooblik.

Ooblik, for those who don't know, is a simple mixture of corn starch and water, but whether it is solid or liquid depends on the amount of pressure exerted upon it. When P had completed a total of 24 braids (probably about 8 today), we made ooblik, adding food colour to the water for added interest. Note to anyone who wants to try it with their kids: it is surprisingly messy. If something acts like a solid when you pick it up and then turns into a liquid when, being 3 1/2, you forget you were holding it in your hand, it runs out and dribbles onto your shorts, the floor, and your mother's shoes. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the project almost as much as the kids, and the cleanup wasn't impossible.

The kids spent most of the rest of the afternoon outside, watching Ari change the tire on our van and reassemble his telescope. The telescope's 20-inch mirror had become dusty, so he decided to break the first rule of cleaning optics: "Don't." He carefully (I don't even want to describe how carefully) washed it, dried it (wicking individual drops off the mirror surface with bits of paper towel), cleaned out the mirror casing, and carefully replaced the mirror in its casing. The mirror looks much shinier now, and despite breaking the "don't" rule, there were no mirror-related tragedies. When the kids grew bored with watching their daddy, they climbed a tree in the front yard. P got impressively high for such a small tree. She even got herself down again without help. I like seeing my kids enjoy activities that I myself enjoyed as a child.

The kids' outdoor activities gave me free time, which I used by scanning coins to create a matching game for the kids to play, to reinforce coin recognition and counting skills. I'll make something like a memory game, with heads and tails to match, and coin combinations up to 15 cents or so. For example, a dime will match 2 nickels, 5 pennies will match a nickel, and eventually I'll add things like a dime and 2 pennies matching a nickel and 7 pennies. The kids seem to like card-type games, so hopefully this will be fun for them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 5, day 1

This morning, when I announced that it was time for school to begin, P responded, "Good! Doing school is like getting dessert!" This made me happy.

I decided to make a visual for our memory verses, based on Psalm 119:11. I made a large heart out of red yarn and taped it to the wall, and each verse we learn, I write the reference on a red piece of paper and tape it inside the heart. So, as the kids store up God's word in their hearts, the heart on the wall will get increasingly full of verses. (This idea was not original to me, lest you be inordinately impressed with my creativity).

This was a "letter sheet" day, and we spent a long time looking through catalogs for items beginning with our letter. We ended up finding about 8 pictures. This is one of the kids' favourite things to do - it makes Mondays special, and starting school for the week seems like a treat. P didn't want to do wet-dry-try with her handwriting letter, so she just did the workbook page. The copywork for this week was our phone number. Nobody answers the home phone in this house, as the only people who don't have one of our cell phone numbers are telemarketers, so I decided that having P learn my cell phone number would be most useful. She became upset when I asked her what the difference was between the sample 2 and her backward 2, and threw the pen, the lid, and her paper across the room. The pen lid rolled all the way under the trundle bed, so we had to pull E's bed out to get it. I informed P that, as she wasn't pregnant and I hadn't thrown the lid in the first place, it was her job to crawl under the bed and get the lid. She did that quite happily, but threw the pen again when I asked her to write the 6 (the very next number) in the way her handwriting curriculum teaches. I informed her that pen-throwing is not acceptable, and if she does it again I'll interpret it as a request for a spanking. There was no more pen-throwing. Perhaps I'd better do wet-dry-try on the copywork instead of (or in addition to) the handwriting workbook. Writing several letters or numbers at once involves a lot more remembering than practicing a single one, and we've had a lot of trouble with copywork.

E's "school" today involved turning switches on and off. We walked around the house, flicking switches, pulling cords, turning the stovetop fan on and off, and turning the dimmer switch back and forth. He loved this activity, and we may be compelled to do it every day this week. While we were doing this, Ari started mending E's bed. The kids have enjoyed jumping on it, but this caused the metal frame to bend, so that when we roll E's bed under P's bed, the bent frame scrapes long grooves into the wood floor. Ari wore out several drill bits, but got it fixed, and the kids both enjoyed watching him for a while.

E remained outside watching Ari when P decided it was too hot for her taste. I had been searching for her country booklets (Canada, USA, Texas) and she came up to me just as I unearthed a phonics workbook we'd acquired somewhere. She asked to do some of it, so I guided her through 3 pages. She then made a booklet about Mexico, featuring the flag, map, a girl in a folk-dancing dress, a Maya pyramid, a pinata (does anyone know how to make the tilde on top of the n in html?), cliff divers, a volcano, chocolate, and silver jewellery. It was much easier to do this without E around.

Tomorrow is Titmouse club, and they'll be learning about snakes. More "dessert"! It's so much fun to see them both enthusiastic about school.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Week 4, day 5

This morning, E was back to his cheerful self. At breakfast we discussed greater than and less than signs, and how they look like a little hungry alligator with his mouth open toward the bigger number. E brought his hand down for emphasis and it landed on the rim of his bowl of soggy raisin bran. "It's even in his ear," was a relevant and accurate comment from P. His appetite was healthy enough that, after the mess had been cleaned up, he ate another bowlful and kept it down, evidence that last night's misery was only a temporary ailment.

Bible, calendar and handwriting went well. We looked at a library book, "Look What We Brought You From Mexico," about aspects of Mexican culture that can sometimes be encountered in the USA, and related projects. I had decided that we would make Mexican food for dinner, so we needed to buy masa harina (for tortillas) and black beans (for refried beans). We also looked at a science experiment book about solids, liquids, and gases, and decided we needed balloons, and cream for making ice cream. Language arts was exclusively fun - forming play dough into the shapes of the letters we have studied so far - and I took advantage of how the play dough held the kids' attention to complete my shopping list.

We went to the grocery store before lunch, and I made it as educational as possible. I showed the kids how to compare prices: "This raisin bran, the one we usually get, is 20 oz, and this other raising bran is also 20 oz. So are they the same size? Now let's look at the price. The one we usually get is $1.89, and the other one is $2.99. Which one costs more? Which one should we buy, if they're both the same? That's right, and that's why this one is the one we usually get." I had P find each item on my list and help cross it off as we found it, and even E was able to tell me which number was smaller several of the times I read the prices. All we failed to find was balloons, which apparently Krogers doesn't carry.

After lunch, the kids wanted to do a science experiment, but I wanted to track down some balloons first. We headed to a sheet music store to pick up the Bastien "Theory and Technic Primer A" for P's piano lessons, then to Michaels where we found balloons and a large pack of construction paper (which will be MINE unless I specifically tell the kids otherwise, or else things just get too wild).

The science experiment with the balloons worked remarkably well. We used a funnel to place baking soda in a balloon, and half filled a bottle with vinegar. We put the mouth of the balloon securely over the mouth of the bottle, and then let the baking soda in the balloon fall into the vinegar in the bottle. The balloon blew up as big as I typically blow them up by mouth, and the wide eyes and open mouths of both kids were thoroughly satisfactory. We had to do it twice, so each of them would have a balloon blown up by such an interesting method. The book had a helpful discussion of molecules in solids, liquids, and gases, so the kids and I mimicked a solid by hanging tightly to each other in a close huddle, a liquid by holding hands but dancing in a circle, and a gas by running wildly around the room. I explained that the carbon dioxide gas that was made when the solid baking soda mixed with the liquid vinegar had needed more space to dance around in than the baking soda and vinegar had needed, which was why the balloon got bigger.

The other experiment we did, which was most attractive to the kids, was making ice cream. We placed half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla in a small ziploc baggie, enclosed it in another small ziploc baggie, and placed it in a gallon-sized ziploc bag filled with ice and salt. The kids and I took turns squishing and hugging it for 20 minutes, during which it froze - a liquid turned into a solid because it got colder and its molecules didn't have energy to dance around any more. The solid was thoroughly enjoyed by both kids.

P did several pages of the piano theory workbook, and clearly grasped the concepts well. I asked her to practice playing the sets of 2 black keys and sets of 3 black keys with the appropriate fingers, and she did it accurately. She then set about playing music of her own making, which was reminiscent of Stravinsky crossed with an elephant. This is part of why I was inclined to offer her lessons.

We made the tortillas together, which both kids enjoyed, and then I left them to their own devices while I finished the refried beans and guacamole salad. The beans turned out way too watery, but otherwise dinner was enjoyed by everyone. As promised, we made Mexican hot chocolate for dessert. Dinner prep and eating took longer than usual, so the kids only just got to bed. I'm about ready to head that way myself!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Week 4, day 4

Having done catechism and memory verse review in the car on the way to CBS, we started today with calendar. P is really getting good at reading the temperature properly, and E is starting to be able to match the date written above the main calendar with the date in the square on the calendar. Our new strategy, doing wet-dry-try on the chalkboard before P tries her handwriting workbook page, is working well. Since we started working on this workbook half a year ago, she's just about 3 weeks from being done with the book, and I'm wondering what to do next. We could just work on handwriting in the context of copywork and regular writing, or I could buy another copy of the same workbook, or a kindergarten workbook from a different curriculum. I'm mainly inclined toward the spend-less-money option, so we'll see how that works.

In addition to copywork, today's language arts assignment was "story elaboration." Provided a 4-word, 2-sentence story, the child was to supply details. P ended up with a thoroughly unusual story involving a swimming race between 8 children who could swim and 1 who could not, and the one who could not swim won because his floaty thing helped him to go faster. It's such fun to see her imagination at work.

E's school was a non-starter; he just didn't seem interested in doing anything. His attention span was fairly short today, and he sat around doing nothing much of the time. Had I been more perceptive, this would have told me to watch out, but more on that later.

We played a number of games today. We started out with "Jumbling Tower", which consists of a set of 48 blocks stacked in groups of 3, and you pull out one block at a time, place it on top, and hopefully do not topple the tower. E toppled it during his second turn, but didn't seem to mind. I toppled it the second time we played. We played Mancala next, and I explained some strategy to P, who grasped it, and E, who was more interesting in dropping the marbles into spaces one at a time, and the appropriate spaces only when I pointed each one out to him. At the end of the game P started making patterns with the different colours of marbles, but as there were only 8 of each colour and E had half of them, this quickly became unsatisfying. I took out the box of pony beads and a spool of string, and we all made necklaces. P made a pattern to match her outfit, with 2 blues and a purple repeating, and after every 11 beads placed a red one on her string. E wasn't at all focused, and by the time he had 4 beads on his string he had lost interest, so I tied each child's necklace around their necks. P also wanted to make a bracelet, which she did, and E ended up with a 2-bead bracelet. I compliantly made a necklace of my own as well.

I felt that, as it was somewhat drippy outside and I felt too tired to take a walk, doing the "playing store" activity suggested in MOTL would be a reasonable activity. We took catalogs and index cards, and the kids chose roughly 20 items they wanted to "shop" for, we taped them to the index cards, and then priced them between 1 and 12 cents apiece. E first wanted to be the shopkeeper, but he didn't want to put the coins in the appropriate sections of the cardboard cash register and did want to buy things, so we started over with P as shopkeeper. She carefully counted out 16 pennies and 4 nickels for each of E and me, and I showed her how a nickel and 7 pennies made 12 cents. E couldn't keep his mind on what was going on, and eventually we put the game away because it was too frustrating to include him, and excluding him upset him. Nonetheless, the games covered several concepts on the MOTL record sheets, so I'll make a note of those.

We went downstairs and the kids drew pictures. P wrote on the back: "Momey" (Mommy) and "rok" (rock). She asked if the spelling was correct, and I tried to explain the relevant rules. I then started learning a Chopin nocturne I've been tempted by for way too long. P hung around quite patiently, and then tried playing piano a bit herself, and I offered her piano lessons if she wanted. I told her that, if she accepted, she would have to practice every day. She knows me well enough, I guess, to know that if I'm learning a new piece of music she's unlikely to get any attention from me, and if I'm giving her a lesson, she's getting attention from me. Daily practice didn't seem to her too large a price to pay, so we hauled out the Bastien Primer A, and she had her first piano lesson. Meanwhile, E's timer (to remind him to go potty) went off, and I went looking for him to ensure that he took the appropriate action. I found him fast asleep on the couch, and carried him upstairs to the kids' room, where he continued napping. When we woke him for dinner, he didn't eat anything, left the table about 3 minutes into dinner, and returned to the couch. When I was done eating, I sat on the couch with him in my lap until he suddenly vomited all over both of us. This explained a lot. I've seen this behaviour before - potty accidents in the morning (he had 2 at CBS), generally not feeling himself in the afternoon, taking an unusually long nap, and throwing up upon waking. Usually, the next steps are that he goes to sleep, sleeps all night, and wakes up as bouncy and happy as ever, so I'm praying that this time will follow the same pattern.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Week 4, day 3

Today's school went smoothly. We started after lunch, and during calendar P was able to accurately read both the temperature, "seventy-seven point seven," and my watch, "two o'clock". No tears occurred over either handwriting or copywork, and both kids participated in a game of throwing a beanbag (actually a small cloth ball, as we had no beanbag) onto cards with the letters learned so far printed on them. E knows the letter sounds well, and only mixed up lowercase f and t - an understandable error. For his school, we brought out the eggs again, and after he achieved success with identifying the missing one of 3 eggs, I added another. It took a bit of trial and error, but soon he was able to identify the missing one more often than not. It's hard to tell if he's being silly for the sake of being silly, or to cover over the fact that he isn't sure what the answer is.

We marked the markable map with E tracing Mexico and P writing the name, and then read most of a library book about Mexico, and another book about mapmaking. P particularly enjoyed the mapmaking book, Mapping Penny's World by Loreen Leedy, so I'll try to make a point of reading it to her again. The kids were interested to learn that at one point both Texas and Arizona belonged to Mexico - "So if you'd been born 160 years ago in Tucson instead of 3 and 5 years ago, you would have been Mexicans." Chocolate originated in Mexico, according to our library book, so this evening I picked up some Mexican chocolate from the grocery store and we can try making Mexican hot chocolate for dessert tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Week 4, day 2

This morning we woke up to a tremendous thunderstorm. Several of the thunderclaps were less than a second behind their lightning bolts, and the rain was torrential. Fortunately, by the time we went to Titmouse Club, it had tapered off to a drizzle.

This week's lesson was about hummingbirds. The docent gave a fascinating description of hummingbirds' characteristics and habits, and had a dead hummingbird in a tube for the kids to closely inspect. She described how a certain unusually aggressive species of hummingbird migrates to the Houston area as the weather gets colder, and one individual will take personal posession of the several hummingbird feeders in her back yard, chasing off any rivals. However, she can thwart this behaviour by putting a few extra teaspoons of sugar in one of the feeders, and then the selfish bird will only bother claiming the sweetest one. "Hummingbirds aren't good at sharing." The kids got to help make hummingbird nectar (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) and fill the feeders. Their craft today was really creative. They each got the finger of a cotton work glove, coloured it, glued on feathers (for wings) and googly eyes, and put a bendy straw through it so that the bendy end looked like a long beak, and the long end served as a handle. At the end, through the drizzle, the kids got to feed crumbled saltine crackers to the turtles in the pond. The mosquito fish ate more crackers than the turtles, but we saw at least 3 red-ear turtles.

After Titmouse Club, we read our Bible story and did the calendar (the weather was particularly easy to describe today). Handwriting went well, and we did both wet-dry-try and workbook. The language arts activity involved P describing a time someone came for a visit, and what they did together. She dictated a long description of a walk in the woods in PA with my parents, and after lunch drew a picture. We sent it to my parents (so, Mom, if you're reading this, you should receive it in a few days), and P even wrote the return address by herself (with my spelling help). She still uses capitals in more locations than appropriate, but I'm not going to make a big deal about it until her handwriting lessons have covered all the lowercase letters. She's been writing in all caps for a year now, and it's a hard habit to change.

Spelling help is still important for P, as it turns out. A week or so ago, a friend invited us to iftar (the Islamic fast-breaking meal during Ramadan) at her mosque. The kids came along, though E slept through it, and P was struck by the dress code. Today she drew a picture of a woman and child in hijab (long dress and veil) and, since I was busy in the kitchen, wrote by herself, "Most ov th pepl woo at tht mosc woor hez woor clovz." The translation was, "Most of the people who were at that mosque wore these clothes." Apparently she lost track of which words she had already written, and we need to work on hearing phonemes in the middle of words, but I thought it was awesome how well she did given that she is reluctant to read simple sentences of more than 3 words.

E also wrote his first word. He started with a p, then an o, then another o, and brought it to me for inspection. I informed him that 2 o's together make an oo sound, so he had written p...oo... "POO!" E realized all by himself that adding a p to the end would result in a word he uses on a daily basis. He then drew a picture of the substance at the bottom of the page. Mmm. Boys.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Week 4, day 1

Inspired by the acquisition of the Math on the Level curriculum, I added more math games and activities to our day than usual. I let the kids play with construction paper cutouts of a variety of shapes while I exercised and showered. They spent much of the time instead pretending to be volcanoes, erupting from P's bed onto the floor. Nothing broke this time.

Our Bible lesson and calendar went smoothly, and I paid attention to which concepts on the "beginning math student record-keeping" sheet from MOTL we covered while doing the calendar. There's actually quite a bit - number recognition, patterns (which day comes after this one), simple addition (Friday was the 18th, and that was 3 days ago...), understanding temperature (since we go outside, feel the weather, and then read the thermometer). P was happier to do her handwriting lesson today, so I think we'll either alternate days - "wet-dry-try" day and workbook day - or do a bit of each on any given day. Today's workbook page covered letters we'd done "wet-dry-try" for on Friday, and she happily, readily wrote the letters neatly and in the right place.

The language arts activities included introducing a new letter, looking at the picture dictionary pages, and making a letter sheet. P has been looking forward to the letter sheet all week, and was thrilled that Monday was finally here. The copywork didn't go quite as well. P traced our city, state, and zip very well, and then started to copy it hovering above the next set of lines, instead of on them. I insisted that she write on the lines, and she began to wail and moan. Finally, sulkily, she copied the words and numbers beautifully. It strikes me that this child doesn't like any restrictions on doing things exactly how it occurs to her to do them the first time. Unfortunately, she just has to deal.

E's school was fun for him: he had 2 bags, each containing 8 strips of paper coloured red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and black. I placed one of the bags under the fish tank (the instructions suggested using a large box for the child to crawl into, but we didn't have one). He was to choose a strip of paper at random from the one bag, name the colour, crawl under the fish tank, and search through the other bag for the matching strip of paper. At first he was discouraged by the fact that the first several strips he drew from the under-fish-tank bag didn't match his strip, but I suggested that he simply look at each non-matching strip, say to it, "Not this one," and put it aside. This worked well, and he completed the task without too much difficulty. After he'd made a few pairs, I asked him how many colours he had. He counted the strips instead, and continued to do this after each pair, eventually counting the strips accurately to 16.

P, meanwhile, thought this looked like fun and wanted me to let her have a turn immediately. I told her that tomorrow she and E could both play the game, but today it was E's school and she needed to back off and let him finish it without help. She wailed, fussed, and moaned, begging and pleading with me to change my mind and implying that I didn't love her nearly as much as E. Of course, E doesn't do handwriting or copywork, and when the language arts activity involves telling a story, she's the only one who does that. Pointing out these facts didn't do much for her mood. I ordered her to come and sit on my lap, and held her while she calmed down. Eventually I gave her the choice between making a book about Canada before lunch and playing dominoes afterward, or doing the dominoes immediately and making the book after lunch. She insisted that she wasn't at all interested in making a book about Canada, but I double checked a few minutes later when she was calmer, and she decided that she wanted to do it, right now, on the condition that she could do it while sitting on her bed. I think she wanted to be sitting on my lap on her bed, but I chose not to understand that part of the request because it wouldn't be practical. She moved to the table partway through as the difficulties of drawing a polar bear while balancing her small book and a large book to copy from on a 10 cm wide bedframe became clear to her. It turned out well, though the map of Canada that I traced for her was hard to trace through the paper and I had to fudge several of the coastlines. She included a flag, a map, an Inuit man, a totem pole, a polar bear, a moose, and some maple leaves. Tomorrow (or the day after): on to Mexico!

After lunch, I played dominoes with the kids - modified versions of both chicken foot and Mexican Train. I dropped frustrating rules like not being able to do anything until doubles are completed. After we'd finished playing dominoes, P wanted to play card games, so they put the dominoes away (huzzah! We have all 28 now!) and we played Go Fish and War. E participated in Go Fish, sitting next to P so she could see his cards and correct what he asked for: "No, E! That's not a 9, it's a 10! So I DON'T have one. GO FISH!" Most of the time she was pretty gentle. It's nice that she's capable enough to correct him. Neither child has any sense of holding the cards so that others can't see them, but at this stage that's better.

By the end of Go Fish, E had had enough of card games, but P was completely gung-ho for War. We played until she actually won. It's rare for us both to have enough patience to complete a game of War, but I guess I got unlucky (really, lucky) with which cards I dealt myself. For many of the pairs, I encouraged her not just to say, "7 is bigger than 5, so I win," but to tell me by how much she won. She had no trouble with numbers separated by 1, 2, or when I had an ace (which we used as a 1) and she had a large number. For the rest, I showed her how to cover on the bigger card the number of symbols on the smaller card, and count the leftovers. She became quite proficient, so this will be a great way to work on learning subtraction facts. We didn't worry about assigning values to the face cards, they were just described as "a lot bigger" than the number cards. At the end of the game, I showed her equal, greater than, and less than signs on the chalkboard, and she readily grasped the explanation that the mouth is hungry and wants to eat the bigger number.

I set the kids up playing Mighty Mind while I did some of my CBS (Bible study) homework. P completed an impressively challenging card, given how reluctant she was to do any of them a year ago, and E enjoyed playing with the easier ones. Today's activities covered a lot of math - the only major "beginning math" concept we didn't touch on was identifying and counting money, which we can do by playing "store" later this week. I like the ideas for this in MOTL, so I may have the kids go through a catalog later in the week to identify things to establish as permanent "store merchandise" to pretend to buy. Given their enjoyment of the letter sheet, I anticipate that this will be quite popular.

Tomorrow is Titmouse Club again. Hooray!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week 3, day 5

I'm writing up Friday's activities on Sunday night, because we left on Friday afternoon for a church family retreat and just got back this afternoon. We all had a great time, and everyone, kids included, has new friends and knows more people in the church we're going to now.

Friday morning I let the kids watch their math video while I exercised and showered. I started the video at the section on even and odd numbers, and between exercise and shower I skipped forward to let them watch their favourite, "Snack Schedule", in which the main character reads the clock carefully to make sure he gets all his snacks in, but then ends up lying on the floor groaning, "I ate way too many snacks today!" We did our catechism review and Bible story, and P reviewed the Lord's Prayer (E has not been interested in it, which is probably because it seems too hard to him).

After thinking about P's reluctance and sensitivity toward handwriting, I scoured the Handwriting Without Tears teacher's manual for ideas on making it more "without tears". I realized that I'd just been giving her the workbook and a bit of explanation, without using many of the other teaching ideas, and she needed more teaching from me before doing it on her own. So we tried the "wet-dry-try" method in which I write a demo letter on the blackboard, explaining all the steps, she traces it with a tiny piece of wet paper towel to erase it, and when it dries she traces in the track left by the wet paper towel with a piece of chalk. When she'd done that, she wasn't remotely interested in actually writing in her workbook, so I felt we could leave that until Monday and instead review some other letters using "wet-dry-try". E enjoyed erasing each letter when P was done working on it, though we had to keep him from being over-enthusiastic and erasing before she was done. We went through the 3 letters we've covered so far in our "letter-of-the-week" scheme, and she did well with writing them on the board. I think in future I may need to insist that she do the workbook page for a given letter before we do a "wet-dry-try" for the next letter, because I sense she won't be willing otherwise.

We had pretty much finished up with the language arts curriculum for this week, and all that was left was the optional "crazy letter" activity: choose a fun or crazy activity to do that starts with the featured letter. In this case it was M, so the kids both jumped at the opportunity to make muffins to munch. We own a pair of wonderful kids' cookbooks, Pretend Soup and Salad People, and used the "hide-and-seek muffins" recipe. The kids measured, counted, and poured, and I even (with much explaining) helped P to see that, using a 1/2-cup measure, we needed 3 measures full to make a cup and a half. She quickly grasped that 2 measures made a cup, and thus 4 measures made 2 cups, but finding the half was a bit tough for her. My mom pointed out to me that that's probably third-grade math, so it's okay for her to struggle with it in kindergarten. The "hide and seek" aspect of the muffins involved placing pieces of fruit (we used apples, since we didn't have the strawberries the recipe called for) in the unbaked muffins, so we thought to go along with the M theme they could be called mystery muffins.

While we waited for the oven to preheat (I'm bad at remembering the "pre" part of preheating) and the muffins to bake and then cool down enough to eat, we looked at picture books of Canada and E played with his puzzle pieces. P wasn't interested in making a book about Canada yet, so I'll ask her to do it on Monday. Next week, I plan for us to start looking at Mexico. After that, we'll move on to looking at regions such as the Caribbean, central America, etc. when there are many small countries close together, and countries only when they're big and/or particularly interesting (Brazil, Chile, etc.) The pattern we've used for the books so far has involved drawing a flag, which won't work if we're not doing a specific country. However, I imagine if I get good enough picture books we can find enough pictures to draw to fill in the gaps. Our public library is quite adequately stocked.

I spent $300 all at once, not something I'm in the habit of doing, but it was for a good cause. A week ago, I ran across a reference to a math curriculum called Math on the Level and, after checking it out, decided that this was the curriculum for us! No workbooks, lots of emphasis on hands-on activities, and the books can be used for all our children from K through Pre-Algebra. For younger kids, there's simply a checklist where you write down the math activities you do (playing store, baking mystery muffins, etc) and mark which math concepts you covered - it's basically a help for record-keeping, and helping me make sure that our activities cover a range of topics. When they get older, there's a more detailed review system in which you give your kid 5 different problems a day (not a whole page of similar problems) to review every concept you've covered at least every 3 weeks. The box arrived while we were at the church retreat, but I've spent this afternoon making myself familiar with the system. I'm looking forward to being a bit more intentional about math activities, and keeping track of just what we're doing, but I don't anticipate that our basic "unschool" plan for kindergarten math will change significantly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Week 3, day 4

On the way to CBS today, we reviewed catechism and the Lord's Prayer. P has the Lord's Prayer almost memorized, with only a 2-word prompt needed. On the way home we started talking about odd and even numbers. The discussion continued during lunch as P displayed to her daddy that she could tell whether any given number is even or odd, but wasn't able to explain why for numbers greater than 10. Ari commented, "Ah, P, you live in a house that is unmerciful toward fragile knowledge." I decided that after lunch, we needed to use physical objects to discover what happens when you add odd to even, even to even, and odd to odd. Then I could explain that, since 10 and its multiples are even, adding an odd number (the ones place) to a multiple of 10 makes it odd, and adding an even number makes it even. We used toothpicks, and made a chart of whether each number from 1 to 20 was odd or even. We then chose numbers from the appropriate lists, added those numbers of toothpicks together, and discovered that even + even = even, odd + odd = even, and even + odd = odd + even = odd. P readily grasped the explanation that, for example, with odd + odd, each odd has an extra toothpick left over, so the 2 extras combine to make a pair, so the sum is even. But her attention span had run out when I started explaining what this implied for adding to multiples of 10. Since she doesn't have a solid grasp of place value, it may have been too ambitious of an explanation. However, even E was able to see, for any number of toothpicks grouped into pairs, whether or not there was one left over and what this implied about whether or not the number was even.

We remembered to update our calendar today. I won the argument that, if it feels cold when you come inside, it's probably warm outside. P now reads the temperature easily, saying, for example, "seven eight point nine F". When we went on to handwriting, she didn't deal well with any of the several times I suggested her letters could have been made more carefully or within the lines. In fact, I struggle to think of any instances where I've corrected her recently and she hasn't cried, whimpered, or sulked. I informed her that this wasn't acceptable, and she needed to realize that she would make mistakes and I would point them out to her and the world wouldn't come to an end. It didn't help. Any advice here is welcome.

She happily traced her copywork (I felt that letting her choose to trace instead of copy was a wise plan) while E assembled his puzzles (which he specifically asked for today). I had intended to page through some more picture books on Canada, but we ended up going outside and swinging on the swings instead. I gave them Canada map colouring pages to keep them quiet while I made some phone calls, but P expressed disdain and they amused themselves in their room doing other things until a penitent P tiptoed up to me and whispered that she had pulled the cord off the fan/light attached to their ceiling. Ari was able to make the light turn on again after pulling the whole assembly apart. It was brought to P's attention that standing on one's table and then pulling with some fraction of one's weight on the abovementioned cord led to undesirable results. Yet another quality learning experience.

Week 3, day 3

Ari's mom took the kids out all morning, and I went to Arabic Bible study (which was easier, since this week's leader had a Lebanese accent instead of an Egyptian one, and Lebanese is closer to Jordanian, which I'm used to). About 1:30 pm, we started school. We did our catechism, Bible reading, and memory - P is getting really good at saying the Lord's Prayer, with only a little prompting. I completely forgot to do calendar. I don't know why, but it fell out of my mind and neither kid reminded me. The calendar upstairs still says it's Tuesday. Oh, well.

For language arts, the kids were to come up with a list of things one could buy in a store that started with the letters we've learned. They had fun with this, but it dragged on for a longer time than I really had patience for. P did a great job on her copywork, and her handwriting page presented only one small problem when the last letter she'd written wasn't quite right. I asked her if she wanted to redo it, and she looked to be starting a tantrum. I stopped her, said, "Let's try that again. I ask you if you want to redo it, and you say "No" in a calm voice. Do you want to redo it?" She said no slightly more calmly, which I accepted. At least it didn't turn into a complete meltdown. For E's school, we reintroduced the 3 eggs, and he did a good deal better. It was still hard for him at first, but after a few iterations he could reliably, instantly identify which one I'd removed. He won't have patience with it if I do it again today, but it's worth repeating once or twice a week, I think.

Having finally obtained proper markers for the Markable Map, I let P write USA in the appropriate place, and let E trace around Canada (the next place we're studying). Meanwhile, P started making little marks at random around the Indian Ocean, and I asked her to stop. I noticed that, when I wasn't closely watching her, she'd wave the marker around with the lid off, repeatedly bumping it into her shirt and staining it. Once E was done tracing around Canada, I asked P to write Canada in the middle, spelling it for her, while E seemed inclined to grab a marker and scribble somewhere in Russia or China. I decided and announced that the rule for marking the map would be that I would say what each child would write, and there wouldn't be unauthorized scribbling. If each child gets to draw something each time we do it, this should work. P threw a tantrum. My rule for tantrums is that they don't succeed in changing the rule (even if I might have been willing to negotiate if there had been no tantrum), and the tantrum works itself out on a different floor of the house than the one I'm on, so I don't have to see it. I sent P down to the living room, where she wailed. When the shrieks of anguish seemed to be tapering off, I came down and explained to her how we wouldn't be able to read anything if she and E drew all over the place, and that I didn't know if the markers would wash out of her clothing. She sniffled and whimpered, but I didn't give in, and I suggested that we go and read a book about Canada. We looked at the atlas page for Canada and talked about how it's colder closer to the North Pole, and how most of the cities are in the south, including the city where their uncle just started graduate school. We then read a book on the St. Lawrence waterway, during which I drew a diagram of a lock and explained how it worked. Both kids seemed to grasp this pretty well, and E started telling a tale without end about his pretend friend, Friend Lion, who went on a sailing trip from this lake to that lake and went through a lock and then sailed to the next lake and went through another lock and... He hasn't mastered the art of ending a sentence. I had to stop his scintillating tale in order to finish reading the book (which degenerated into looking at the pictures, but much of the interesting content was done). The kids then coloured a page with the Canadian flag, and P turned hers over and drew the flag of Pretend Land, which she insisted that I colour in. By this time we needed to get ready for her ballet lesson, so that was the end of school for the day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 3, day 2

Today, I got going nice and early, because I wanted to go to the Titmouse Club, which started at 10am. So about 9:20, we started doing Bible and calendar, and finished in plenty of time to get there. The club meets in a nature sanctuary, and I wasn't sure exactly which wooded path would lead me to the right location, but I happened to guess right and we were among the first ones there. It's ostensibly for children ages 2 1/2 to 5, which is perfect for my two, though it seemed that P was the oldest one there.

The club started out with a "lesson", in this case a discussion of the history of this particular nature sanctuary (complete with a story of how the founder had, during a flood, taken refuge on the roof of her cabin, saw a wild pig floating by, rescued it, and after the flood made it her pet). The docent read 2 books to the group, and then they did a craft. The children were each given a 2-foot square of muslin and some leaves, which they painted and pressed on the muslin. The effect was somewhat different when the adult demonstrated and when the children imitated, but the resulting works of art were at least interesting, and we used them as tablecloths for dinner this evening. After the craft, the kids played "nature walk bingo". Each child was given a clipboard with a set of 25 pictures, and if they made a row of 4 or more, they won a prize. This was actually easier than I thought at first, and the kids saw (among other things) a spider web, a mushroom, a turtle, a school of mosquito fish (hooray for mosquito fish! Long may they prosper, and eat, and eat, and eat...), raccoon tracks, and poison ivy. At the end of the game, each child got a prize.

After Titmouse Club, we returned home and did the language arts lesson for the day. P happily completed her handwriting worksheet this time. Her other assignment was to look at an interesting picture (this one contained a boy and a robot sitting on a step, clearly deeply in conversation) and tell a story. P's story went something like this: "A robot travelled to earth from another planet to explore it. When he was exploring he found a boy. The robot and the boy started talking about the interesting places the robot saw. They were trying to decide which places the robot should take the boy." I asked P which 3 places she would ask the robot to take her, if she were to be in the boy's situation. She thought she'd like to see the Grand Canyon, sharks in the Indian Ocean, and she'd like to dig in the ground to find beautiful rocks.

E wasn't restless during P's story, and it seemed that he really enjoyed listening to her. However, he was quite happy to do his own "school" (the puzzles again). This time we looked at each side of each puzzle after he had assembled it, and discussed what was on each side and what the pictures looked like when we put the pieces together. P kept playing with the remaining pieces while E and I were discussing the puzzle he'd most recently assembled, and I had to ask her several times to leave E's school alone, since we wanted him to leave hers alone.

After lunch, we had fun with red cabbage. If you cook red cabbage in water, the resulting cabbage water is a delightful pH indicator. Vinegar turns it from purple to bright red; baking soda turns it greenish blue. This was fun to play with for a while, and of course the obvious next step, that of adding baking soda to vinegar, is entertaining as well. At the end, we added water from the fish tank to the remaining cabbage water, and it turned slightly bluish. Since guppies like water with a pH of around 8.5, this shows that our guppies have happy water. (I didn't explain the pH scale, though I did mention the terms "acid" and "base"). The cabbage water was much more popular with the kids than the red cabbage dish we ate for dinner, but at least the adults enjoyed it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week 3, day 1

It was nice to start off this week with a full day of school. I didn't get started right at 10am, because my father-in-law had promised to read the kids 2 fairly long stories and he didn't finish until about 10:15. I used the unexpected extra time to do a bit more prep work and to get everything out that we were going to use. This may be something worth doing in future anyway.

The kids have happily settled into the routine of catechism, Bible story, memory verse, and calendar. We browsed the picture dictionary pages and made a letter page from catalog pictures for this week's letter. I decided on a new strategy of affixing each picture to the page as we found it, so there was no disagreement about which picture was placed where. P did a page of her handwriting workbook without any trouble, but when it came to copywork (our street address) and I reminded her that letters needed to start at the top, she got angry and crossed out my sample that she was tracing. She hid under the table and sulked, and I decided that she needed firmness rather than mercy this time. I told her that either way she had to come out from under the table, but she could choose to trace a new sample now, or after E's school. She decided to trace it immediately, and did it perfectly.

E's activity this week involves a set of 5 2-piece puzzles. I found 5 interesting full-page catalog pictures, glued them to the cardboard from cereal boxes, and cut them in half with wiggly lines. We discussed each picture, then mixed all 10 pieces, and he reassembled each of the 5 pictures. He started out being silly, but fairly soon mastered the game. This wasn't nearly as hard for him as last week's game, so I think by Wednesday or Thursday I may bring out last week's game to review it instead of doing this week's activity.

The kids had asked before we started school to read a geography book we'd obtained from the library, and I started off our geography lesson with that. By the end of the book, my stomach was audibly growling, so I declared a lunch break. During lunch, I gave the kids 2 options: P could make a book about the USA like she made for Texas, or we could start looking at Canada. P was enthusiastic about the book idea, and I let E make one as well (he decided his was about natural science). She wrote USA on the front cover and coloured in the flag whose outline I drew. I traced a USA map outline on which she coloured Texas (which partly annexed Oklahoma, sorry), California (again, Oregon got munched on), and Arizona. She drew several symbols, monuments and landmarks, including a bald eagle (which turned out rather well), the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the Gateway Arch, and Mauna Loa. By the end of it, she had clearly done all that she had patience to do in terms of seatwork, and I declared school to be over. I set them up with colouring pages and took a nap.

In the mail, a letter from P's friend in PA arrived, and after my nap she wanted to write a response. I think if she'd done it first thing in the morning it might have been longer, but as it was she wrote 2 whole sentences (with me spelling every word for her) and drew a picture on the back. I let her watch as I wrote her friend's name and address and her full name and return address (which she's been practicing writing the past few weeks, but it's nothing like small enough to fit on an envelope), she stamped it, and it's waiting in our mailbox now.

Tomorrow, perhaps, we'll do a geography lesson featuring Canada. On the other hand, I have a book that describes how to use a red cabbage as a pH indicator, and there's a red cabbage in the fridge, so that may well be what we choose to do. Oh, and there's the Titmouse Club! The Audubon Society has a presentation for children ages 2-5 on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, which I'd like to investigate.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week 2, day 4

Friday was the only day this week on which we did school in the morning. It was quite a relief to start with kids (and me) who weren't already tired. I set the kids up watching their math video while I exercised, and then let them play with Cuisenaire Rods while I showered. After my shower I came to encourage them to put the rods away, and they informed me they had built "pretend Caltech" from the rods. Any 4 rods of the same length provide the 4 corners of a building, and it can be roofed with a pair of rods, and then a number of rods placed perpendicularly to the pair. Two of the one-unit rods (cubes) served as Ari and myself inside of Caltech. Two buildings had been built, of different heights. Neither child was remotely willing to put the rods away, so I suggested that we do our Bible story and calendar, and then play together with Cuisenaire rods until E's timer went off (we're sending him to go potty every 40 minutes or so). This suggestion was accepted, so that's what we did, and we ended up having 20 minutes to play with Cuisenaire rods. P enjoyed placing the different colours / lengths in order from 1 to 10 and back to 1, making a diamond shape. When the timer went off we found almost all the pieces and put them away. Speaking of finding missing pieces, earlier in the morning the kids had found the missing dominoes (from week 1, day 1) at the bottom of a 5-pack box of wipes. So, I have faith that eventually all missing pieces will end up back in the appropriate containers. Maybe not all at the same time, though...

We started out language arts with P's handwriting lesson, and this time she did lowercase "k" beautifully. She didn't enjoy copying her last name very much, but she did it twice as I asked her to, and rather well at that. The other activity was to put a story in order - I read a 4-sentence story with the sentences in order 4, 1, 3, 2, and she had to re-tell the story with the first event first, etc. At first she was sure she couldn't do it, but I asked her to just listen to the sentences once more and see how she felt, and she did it perfectly on the first try. She seems to readily conclude that things are too hard for her when they aren't - hopefully enough counterexamples will change this tendency.

For E's Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready activity, I used the eggs again, but this time started out with just 3. He wasn't being silly, but he was only able to identify the one of the 3 eggs I removed about half the time. This skill probably just needs practice. It's a bit like Kim's game, I suppose. I can bring it back once a week or so until he masters it. We'll move on to the next activity next week, because if we don't I suspect we may have a mutiny on our hands.

The remainder of our school time before lunch, we spent on geography. P can now reliably identify the USA on a world map, which was one of the chief things I wanted her to know. We read a library book on US national monuments, and then I set them up with Statue of Liberty colouring pages I found online. While they coloured, I read the story of the first lunar landing and of Lewis and Clark's explorations. I hadn't known many details at all of the Lewis and Clark expedition, so I enjoyed learning more about that. I thought it was awesome that Sacagawea, their Shoshoni guide, carried her baby with her throughout the expedition, and halfway through found her long-lost brother. I think my excitement rubbed off on the kids, because P retold the story in some detail to her grandfather during lunch time.

I decided that formal school was over, and after lunch we went shopping. However, P picked up a twisty tie in the bulk foods section of the first store we went to, and throughout the rest of the trip, she shaped it into various letters and asked E to identify them. He did pretty well, when he wasn't being silly, though I suspect part of what P described as "E being silly" was E not being able to figure out which letter P had made, but deciding to cover his ignorance with silliness. It certainly kept them happy in the car. At Target I found markers for our Markable Map, which I tested when we got home and they worked! I'd tried dry-erase (which stained, though not so badly that we can't use the map any more, and took loads of alcohol to remove), washable kids' markers (which never dried), and some old transparency pens we found in the study (which smeared, and required alcohol to remove). These dry quickly, don't wipe off with fingers, and do wipe off with water. In Sonlight's defense, the kind I bought at Target is the kind they sell with the map, and I should have bought the package from Sonlight, but I thought I'd be able to use something we had around the house instead. Silly me! In any case, starting next week we'll include the Markable Map in our geography lessons.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Week 2, day 3

This morning we went to CBS, so we didn't do any formal "school" until afternoon. On the way to CBS we reviewed the catechism so far and the Lord's Prayer, and on the way back we reviewed the days of the week and months of the year. P knows the months fairly well, but still has to think about them. She tends to skip from Wendesday to Friday unless I'm saying the days with her. Since their CBS classes contain a Bible story, we skip doing a Bible story for our own school on Thursdays.

After lunch I started some bread rising, discovering halfway through that even with all the whole-wheat flour and white flour in the house, I didn't have enough for 3 loaves. My bread machine died in PA, so I've been doing it all by hand, and making 3 loaves at once isn't significantly more effort than making just 1 loaf. At once stage I had tremendously sticky hands and needed to scrounge for more flour while E yelled about the fact that I wouldn't let him get his hands sticky too. I found a stash of spelt, and that solved the problem, but I think we all started our school time a bit annoyed.

P requested that I start by reading a library book I had obtained, 100 Days of Cool, which places numbers from 1 to 100 on a number line. They both enjoyed the book, though I have no idea how much of the intended "math" they absorbed. Today there also was no conflict on the weather: it was warm and cloudy.

P is struggling with writing her last name, and I think this increases her frustration level. She continually reverses the "z", and when I inform her that it's backward, she gets upset. She hasn't practiced all the lowercase letters in her handwriting workbook yet, so that's part of the problem. Today's page in the handwriting workbook was the letter "k", and P couldn't tell the difference between a capital and lowercase K. She drew a capital one, I told her she hadn't quite gotten it right, and she melted down instantly. Taking Maryam's good suggestion of "distracting her with something shiny," I decided to move on to E's activity for the day, a memory game with 5 colours of paper eggs. He was being silly, which was annoying if one's main focus was getting through the game, and was helpful if one's main focus was cheering P up. Eventually his silliness was to the point that I put the eggs away (causing an outburst) and suggested that P do a different handwriting page instead. She did just fine. I need to remember that, instead of telling her that she's done something wrong, it would be better to ask her, "how is your letter different from the model?" She was able to identify the one "y" where she forgot about the lines on the page, describe what she'd done wrong, and do the remaining ones perfectly. Since there are only about 6 for her to copy, I prefer for her to do her best to get each one exactly right. I'm wondering, though, whether she might do better with a program that requires more repetition. I'll look into it when she finishes this workbook, which she may well do before the end of 2009. Going through 2 kindergarten-level handwriting books in a year can't hurt, if she's happy to go that fast.

After P's language arts, we tried the coloured egg activity again. Any time E started being too silly to make any progress, I started putting them away, which caused him to focus. He still couldn't figure out which of 5 colours I took away, so I started him with 2 colours, took one away, and asked him to figure out which was missing. Since that was easy for him, I tried again with 3 colours, but he had no success at all. He may have been tired, since I don't think it should be too hard for him. His timer went off (it reminds him to go potty), and as I followed him to make sure he went, I stepped in something wet. Usually a puddle on the floor signifies that we need to make the timer go off more frequently, but this didn't smell that way. In fact, it was rather slippery in texture, and much greater in quantity than puddles from the usual source. I asked E to get me the roll of paper towels on the bathroom counter. He came back with a handful of toilet paper, which wasn't quite the same, but it allowed me to wipe my foot off and go myself for the paper towels. I discovered the source of the puddle: an unlidded container of bubble magic had fallen down behind the bookshelf. The bubble magic was consigned to the trash, I finished the roll of paper towels, and mopped the floor with a wet towel, causing many suds. Finally, after straining to move the bookshelf away from the wall and back against the wall, the mess was resolved.

Once the cleanup was complete, I gave the kids a choice between reading one of the books on the USA that I had checked out, and colouring in a map. They chose to colour. E carefully filled in the USA with a single colour, while P asked for help identifying and then coloured Texas, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and North Carolina different colours and filled in the surrounding ocean with blue. Once they were done colouring, P asked if she could write a little book about Texas. This is something we've done a few times in the past. You take 2 sheets of printer paper, cut them in half, put them together and fold in half, and staple the fold, resulting in an 8-page book 1/4 the size of a piece of printer paper. I suggested we read the book about Texas first, which we did, and then P drew and wrote on all 8 pages. I gave E a 4-page book to draw on, which ended up containing a large number of "beast fish" (imaginary creatures reported to eat blue whales for lunch when E isn't catching them). P's book featured "Texas" on the front page, a flag (whose outline I drew) with the word "flag", a map of Texas (whose outline I traced) with a smiley face where Houston is located, a monarch butterfly, an oil well, an armadillo, a Dr. Pepper (invented in TX), and a cowboy boot. She has read it to every adult in the house, and is justifiably proud of herself. I suggested that we can do a similar book for each country we study (of course, there are Texans who insist that TX is a country, not a state). She liked this idea, so we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Week 2, day 2

Wednesdays are "Oma Day". Oma is the kids' name for my mother-in-law, and she requested that one morning a week, she could take the kids and have fun being their grandmother. They often go to the McDonald's play area, and sometimes end up at the zoo or other fun place. Today I was particularly grateful that she had the kids, because I'd been invited to an Arabic-language Bible study. Concentrating on both the kids and the Arabic would have been way too much. As it was, they say immersion is the best way to learn a language, but they don't usually talk as much about how it feels like drinking from a fire hose. Fortunately, I know I can drink from a figurative fire hose, but I did feel exhausted at the end! If I go every week, I will learn lots of Arabic, and that's my intention.

It was a rainy day, so the kids spent their morning at the shopping mall's play place. They got back around 2pm, and P's ballet lesson starts at 4pm, so that limited our school time somewhat. The rain made it easy to reach a consensus on the weather - even in Houston, the kids are unlikely to think rainy weather is also warm. Having recently experienced its results so dramatically, I was amused that today's Bible story was the Tower of Babel, when the people were made to speak different languages and couldn't collaborate on the engineering of the tower.

P did her handwriting page, and was quite willing to review the days of the week and months of the year with me as long as I made sure E didn't chime in. She's getting much better at them and needs only a little prompting. Today's assignment called for writing an invitation, but P couldn't think of anyone she wanted to invite anywhere, so we just left it. We were running low on time anyway.

E's "school" this week consists of 5 paper eggs in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. He is first to hand me the colour I ask for, which he succeeded at today, and then once we've played that a while, I hide one and show him the other 4, and he is to name the missing colour. Except for the times that P whispered the answer, he didn't get any right. Perhaps he'll do better tomorrow.

After E's activity, we headed to the computer room for a look at Google Maps. My plan for this week is to look at the USA, so we started with the zoomed in view of our neighbourhood, and progressively zoomed out until the entire world was visible. P can reliably identify Texas on a USA map when its outline is drawn, and is pretty good at identifying the USA on a world map. She reliably identifies South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia.

Once P was settled at her ballet lesson (during which Ari and E go fishing, even in the rain), I drove to the library for some uninterrupted browsing. It's so much easier when the kids are not with me, because when they are, I have to read every book that catches their eye right away. I picked up a picture book on Texas, one on USA national monuments, and a book with various stories about the USA, a few of which I might read to them over the next few days. I also found some picture books about Canada, which we'll look at next week.

Tomorrow morning is Bible study again, but we're doing pretty well with managing to do some school in the afternoons this week, so I have good hopes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Week 2, day 1

I hadn't informed P and E about Labour Day, but our plans pretty much precluded doing any school. We spent the day in College Station, TX with Ari's grandparents, parents, and youngest brother & his wife & son. Taco salad and swimming took up most of the day, and it was a fine time of interaction with wonderful people.

Last week, not thinking about Labour Day, I had told the kids that on Monday we could return to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which we visited the Friday before we started school. We had the foresight to purchase a membership, and I intend returning to the museum with the kids about once a month. Wanting to come as close as I could to keeping my word, we visited the museum this morning instead. I abandoned my daily workout and shower, thinking that the earlier we started, the less crowded it was likely to be. My general strategy for museum visits is that school groups are less likely to schedule large tours the day after a weekend ends, and thus Mondays (or this Tuesday) are likely to be the best days for us to visit.

On the way to the museum, we reviewed catechism and memory verses, and I had them start memorizing the Lord's Prayer. Since we say this each week in church, I thought it would be a relevant passage to memorize. I suggested reviewing the days of the week and months of the year, and P declined, so I asked her if the return journey would be a better time. She agreed that that would work, and it ended up being quite acceptable. This time, I took the precaution of insisting to E that he be absolutely silent while P and I worked on the lists, and we got through them a few times. It seems to me that pre-agreeing with P a time to work on them, and ensuring E's silence, are likely to be a fairly successful strategy.

We arrived at the museum at about 9:45. There was one school group there today, but we pretty much avoided them and almost had the place to ourselves. The kids wanted to look at the dinosaur skeletons first, but P was thoroughly distracted by the trilobites. I can't blame her; the museum has a beautiful collection. Kids love big numbers, so I think trilobites are made even more interesting by the fact that they swam around hundreds of millions of years before the dinosaurs. We looked closely at the hadrosaur and Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons before moving on to the mastodon and giant ground sloth, which apparently both inhabited this vicinity a long time ago. P in particular felt scared of them, and wasn't completely relieved by the fact that they were herbivores, and extinct.

Next to the fossils was a docent who performed a chemistry demo. His spiel was clearly from a memorized script that wasn't designed for children as small as mine, but they got a lot out of it. P later described to Ari and her grandparents how a hard-boiled egg sank in plain water but floated in salty water, how a base turned a red liquid blue but an acid turned it back to red, and how boric acid turned Elmer's glue into a solid that bounced. E was impressed by the demonstration of the gel that is used in diapers - a small quantity of powder was placed in a beaker, water was added, and the beaker was inverted - the water had become a gel that stayed in the beaker. Alas, our progress in potty-training is not yet at the point that this demo was completely irrelevant to his life. At the end of the demo, during which I had needed to grab each child at least once to keep them from wandering off, P looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Chemistry is interesting!"

From that demo we moved into the energy display, which mainly focuses on the oil industry but has a small section on alternative energy at the end. The most memorable portion of this was an "elevator" that pretended to shrink you down to 7 inches and take you down to the bottom of an oil well. The room shook and hummed while the movie host claimed we were rapidly descending, and I had to reassure both kids that this was not really happening. I don't think they grasped much of the content, though we did discuss how natural gas is cooled and turns into liquified natural gas for transport, and we interacted over the wind energy display, which E particularly liked.

Adjacent to the energy display is a Foucault pendulum, which slowly swings back and forth but precesses with Earth's rotation, progressively knocking over pegs arranged in a circle as the day goes by. We didn't stay long enough to see it knock over a peg, but the kids were mesmerised for several minutes. We ascended two floors, closer to where the pendulum attaches to the ceiling, and entered the Hall of the Americas.

The Hall of the Americas focuses on native peoples from the Arctic down to South America, with artifacts from the Inuit, from Pacific Northwest tribes, the Southwest, the Plains, the Maya and Aztec, and more. The children were getting tired by this point, but were interested in the Inuit sealskin outfit, the Pacific Northwest masks, and the Mayan jaguar statue, and P remembered that the video showed that chocolate is made from beans. On our way out, we looked more closely at where the pendulum attaches to the ceiling yet one floor higher, but it was clear that we were reaching sensory overload as well as lunch time. Having a membership to the museum is a good thing, because I know we can come back any time we want without paying any extra, so I don't feel compelled to push the kids past their endurance level.

After lunch, we conducted our calendar observations (hot, partly cloudy - the temperature is of course not the same if you observe it at 1pm as if you observe at 10am) and read the story of Noah's ark. Although I like their Bible storybook quite a bit, I was annoyed at the drawing of a dinosaur emerging from the ark. I just didn't want to go there, so I was relieved that the kids didn't notice it (it was in the background). Eventually they're going to have to hear about the young-earth creationist/old-earth creationist/theistic evolution/atheistic evolution thang, but right now I'd rather not deal with it. I just change the storybook rendition when necessary (it tends to be worded more young-earth than the Bible, which is more ambiguous), taking shameless advantage of the fact that the kids can't read yet...

We looked at this week's picture dictionary page and made a letter poster with catalog pictures, encountering some dissent as to the placement of the pictures on the page. I eventually removed the picture on which the kids could not agree (resulting in strenuous protest), we placed all the other pictures, and (as was my plan) there was only one reasonable space remaining for the bone of contention.

I had a midwife appointment at 2pm, so this was all we really had time for before then, but I brought along a couple of colouring pages for them to work on during my appointment: a Texas flag and map page (I intend to work on U.S. geography later this week, and thought we'd start with where we are), and colouring pages of last week's letter. P wrote her name and E's, using lowercase letters, and only reversing one letter. She's making progress!

E fell asleep on the way home, and I worked with P on this week's copywork (her last name) and a few pages in her handwriting workbook. Then we played a game I obtained for free from Ari's aunt, which involves plastic pieces with letters on them which snap together. P enjoys making impossibly long nonsense words and having me read them to her. E woke up, and we read library books for most of the time before dinner.

Tomorrow, I'll be busy for much of the morning, so we'll see how much school happens. Doing some in the afternoon worked well today, so I suppose it will tomorrow as well.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week 1, day 5

Today I put the MathTacular video on for the kids while I exercised and showered. I started it at the section that shows giving change, the days of the week and months of the year, and telling time. By 10am, I was ready to start doing our regularly scheduled school, but suddenly realized that both kids were still in their pyjamas. 10:15 saw the kids clothed and the beds made, whereupon we started with catechism, Bible story, and memory verse review. Both kids know the verse well now.

Calendar time seems to be a source of constant disagreement. E and I both felt that the weather was warm, but P begged, pleaded, and cajoled until we recorded it as cool instead. It was 79 degrees, cloudy, and humid. P is getting better at reading the thermometer. Her biggest challenge was convincing E to let go of it so she could see it at all.

P did a couple of pages in her handwriting workbook while E traced his name, and then P did the rest of the day's language arts assignment (Week 1, day 4, since we skipped yesterday, but tomorrow's only assignment is "optional" - we'll do it if we feel like it). Part of this week's activities have involved memorizing the days of the week and the months of the year, and P inexplicably became frantic when she couldn't remember the order, started crying, and refused to try any more. It's possible that the fact that E knows them better than she does makes her angry. She sniffled and sulked while E and I played with the coins from this week's Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready activity. Once we were done, she informed me that what would make her feel better would be playing at a playground.

We're new in this area, and there are no playgrounds within walking distance. My father-in-law helpfully suggested a playground that was 30 minutes' drive away, but I really didn't feel like going that far for a playground. Even if it's really good. Another friend had recommended a playground in Terry Hershey Park, but that park is about 100 feet wide by 10 miles long along the bayou, and the playground could be anywhere. However, after scouring Google Maps zoomed in as far as possible, I detected a portion of Terry Hershey Park not far from us that contained playground equipment. I packed a lunch, and we headed out.

After lunch and playing on the playground for a while, we crossed the road and walked along the bayou with our nature walk notebooks. The kids really didn't draw much today, P drew a flower and E drew a dead leaf, but we observed 2 locations where clear streams full of fish run into the murky bayou. The second place is one where Ari fished as a boy; he calls it "the gar place" because a number of gars are usually visible there (though not necessarily catchable). The kids thought that, lacking fishing rods, they'd see if dangling sticks in the water would cause fish to grab on so they could haul them up. Not surprisingly, this did not work. Toward the end of the time we were there, we saw a snake almost a foot long that almost looked like a coral snake, though the colour banding wasn't as clear as I thought it should be. Nonetheless, I felt nervous, and herded the kids home. Whatever P thought this morning, it was NOT COOL by afternoon, and we drank all the water I'd carried with us. E fell asleep in the car on the way back, and my mother-in-law watched P while I also took a much-needed nap.

After E woke from his nap, we read a number of books, including Where the Wild Things Are. One of the last ones we read was a library book entitled Big Numbers (And Pictures That Show How Big They Are). It starts with a drawing of one pea, then goes up in powers of ten until you reach a quadrillion peas. 100 peas are a serving or so, a million peas cover the table, a billion peas fill the house, a trillion fill the neighbourhood, and a quadrillion make a mountain. The kids love this book, and as a result they have a deeper understanding of exponents than your average 3- or 5-year-old.

I'm still not sure what was up with P's aversion to learning the days of the week and months of the year, and what to do about it. I'm halfway inclined to just forget it and let our calendar activities take care of it, but I don't want her to think that I think she can't do it, either. Ack! If anyone has insight into my child's brain that I lack, I'm eager to hear about it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Week 1, day 4

Today was the first day of Community Bible Study. I attended a CBS in PA, and I'm really glad to have found one here as well. They have a comprehensive children's program as well as an in-depth adult study. This year I'll be studying the books of 1 and 2 Kings, and the minor prophets whose ministries took place during that time frame. The kids will learn stories from the Old Testament before Christmas, and the New Testament afterwards. In my core group I met another South African who is also homeschooling her kids, though they're a good deal older than P and E. It seemed that my kids settled in well into their classes, and apparently P has learned Psalm 119:11 well enough that she shared it with her class when they were doing their class memory verse.

After lunch, my mother-in-law read to the kids for a good long time while I sorted through my new CBS materials and generally relaxed - very pleasant! My inlaws (with whom we are currently living) had been out of town for a week, so the kids are enjoying having them back. After she was done reading to them, I suggested to P that we make a map of the kids' room. E chose not to participate, and hung out under his grandmother's feet instead. We used graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil, and approximated distances to the nearest foot. I was quite proud of how the map turned out; we included details such as the fish tank and the rocking horse. My aim was to give her a sense of just what a map is, and that it depicts a real place. We then came downstairs and looked on Google Maps at our current neighbourhood. We traced out the path to the lake and the bayou, and then P noticed an odd feature in the drainage channel we walk past on our way to the bayou, in the opposite direction from the way we usually go. We decided to take a walk to check it out.

Like most of our walks, this wasn't a direct A-to-B operation, but P led the way based on her understanding of the map and took E and me directly to the feature we'd been curious about. Clearly, she does have a good concept of what a map is and how to use it. It was a series of concrete blocks, probably designed to catch rushing debris when the channel is flooding. An egret was standing adjacent to it when we arrived, and we watched it fly away. P then threw various debris into the water to see if it floated, and I saw a baby turtle appear for about 3 seconds and then thoroughly vanish. On the way back, we walked around to the far side of the lake and saw the ducks, but didn't stay long.

After our walks and a well-enjoyed popsicle each, I re-read the geography book to them, and described the pictures in one of the volcano books (which was far above their level). So, I suppose one could say that the only subject we covered today was geography, but certainly math was involved in counting how many rulers it took to measure out the wall, and looking at local wildlife certainly counts as science. Besides, P can now write her name using lowercase letters, as she demonstrated on her CBS colouring page. All in all, a thoroughly productive day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Week 1, day 3

The kids are starting to recognize and enjoy the daily routine of school. We got started right about 10am, and looked at catechism question 4 (Q: How can you glorify God? A: By loving him and doing what he commands). We read the story of Adam and Eve's sin and eviction from Eden, and talked about how they stopped glorifying God when they disobeyed him. I thought it was neat how the story and the catechism question tied together. Both kids are starting to really remember our memory verse for the week.

Today there was no disagreement about the calendar: it was warm, clear, and sunny. Amusingly, the temperature reading on Monday, which was deemed "cool", was higher than yesterday or today, which were both deemed "warm". P seems inclined to read the temperature backward, starting with the F of, say, 76.6F, which then confuses her because she knows there should be 2 digits before the decimal. She's getting there, though.

Before I could get them started with the scheduled language arts activity, P demanded "another page from the book with the baby elephant in the bathtub." I was utterly clueless for several minutes as her frustration level mounted, and finally realized that the book of handwriting worksheets including the one I gave her yesterday had precisely that picture on the front cover. I gave her the option of doing all the capital letters on that page (she'd done the lowercase yesterday), but she asked for a plain sheet of paper and wrote a pattern of letters: FfFfFfF... Just as good as a handwriting worksheet, I'd say. We then played "I Spy" with this week's letter, identifying at least 5 objects in their room that started with that letter, and then branched out to general "I Spy." P did her copywork while E just watched; he wasn't interested in writing anything himself. He did write an E with several extra horizontal lines while P was writing her letter pattern.

Today the kids demanded another nature walk, and only under extreme protest did they agree to limit the walk to the area surrounding the lake nearby and not the bayou. After E's coin lesson from Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready, we put on our shoes and headed across the plank bridge to the lake. They didn't draw as many things today, but P and I noticed a turtle burrowing itself into the mud, we played a bit more I Spy, and headed to the far side of the lake. There P hypothesized that the sitting ducks we saw were sitting on eggs, and decided that they were silly for sitting so close to where people might step on them. We walked to the edge of the pier, tiptoeing around the large quantities of duck droppings, and didn't feed any of the hopeful ducks or geese. We noticed a school of sunfish swimming around near the geese - apparently geese either don't have a taste for sunfish, or don't have a chance of getting any. The kids then decided that we should play hide-and-seek, which was made more difficult by the lack of any hiding places which weren't trees. However, when I did find a pretty good tree to hide behind and E couldn't immediately find me upon opening his eyes, he became distraught and I had to emerge to comfort him. As the game of hide-and-seek was winding down, I saw, sitting on a sign, a lizard that had a red skin flap under its chin. We watched it for a while and noticed that every time it moved, it did several push-ups and then extended its skin flap a few times. Thereafter it remained essentially motionless until it ran to a new position and repeated this routine. P drew a picture of it in her notebook, complete with red skin flap. As we were leaving, the duck which had been accused of laying eggs in a foolish location got up and waddled away, making it clear that it had not in fact been sitting on eggs in the first place. Thus observation was used to eliminate a faulty hypothesis, which I explained to the kids, though not in those words.

After lunch, I wrestled with evil computers in an attempt to print out another colouring page for the kids. After several restarts, I finally accomplished my goal, and we went to the library. We checked out 2 books on volcanoes (P's request) and one on basic geography. We read these books until it was time for P's ballet lesson, during which time Ari takes E fishing. The colouring pages kept the kids busy while I was cooking dinner. This afternoon we also performed an experiment from another library book, on the behaviour of oil and (food-coloured) water with and without the addition of soap. Obviously, the non-soapy mix separates, but the soapy mix retains some water mixed with the oil when it separates from the remainder of the water. This is only discernible due to the addition of food colour to the water, but I thought it an interesting result. I'm not sure the kids fully grasped what was happening.

Tomorrow is going to deviate from our standard routine, because Community Bible Study starts at 9:30 am, and both the kids and I are registered for it. I'm not sure how much school will happen after CBS, but I'm not going to stress about it if nothing happens - it's been a productive week so far.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Week 1, day 2

We got started earlier this morning than yesterday, partly due to my having reduced the size of the laundry pile and thus not feeling compelled to wash, dry, fold, and put away the next load before starting school with the kids. Ari got up significantly later than me, so he watched the kids and had breakfast while I exercised and showered. He let them draw pictures once he was done with breakfast. P is really into drawing herself, or some other beautiful princess, wearing a dress decorated with spirals of varying sizes and holding flowers (or wearing them in her hair). She's produced at least 4 pictures of the same subject this week.

The first part of the morning went about the same as yesterday. We prayed, reviewed catechism questions 1 and 2 and discussed question 3. (If you're curious, we're not convinced about infant baptism and will skip those questions in the catechism when we get there, but that's still a ways down the line). We read about Adam and Eve's creation, and reviewed Psalm 119:11.

We again disagreed about today's calendar notation, but eventually settled on "warm and hazy". It was about the same temperature as yesterday, but the sun was shining somewhat more brightly, so I think that affected our perception. P misread the digital "7" in"78.8 degrees" as an "I", so I helped her out. She doesn't grasp reading 2-digit numbers yet, so we'll work on that. Days of the month and temperatures together will cover almost all the numbers from 1 to 100, with 32 to 50 probably getting the least practice given our location...

Today's language arts was fun. P was to narrate a favourite picture book, and she chose Harold and the Purple Crayon. She related the story very well, given that we haven't been reading it daily for quite some time. Most of the story line she told in her own words, instead of repeating the author's words verbatim. When she got stuck, E (who also loves this book) was quick to supply the precise wording of the book. If it hadn't been for the fact that I covered the words with my hand, you'd think he was a genius early reader. As it is, there's nothing wrong with his memory!

After we were done with language arts, E was given the option of doing "his school" or going immediately on a nature walk. The latter option was overwhelmingly favoured, and the weather was still warm (as opposed to hot) and hazy (as opposed to blazing sun), so it was remarkably comfortable. My general "nature walk" procedure is to carry a gallon-sized Ziploc bag containing a notebook for each child and for myself, a few regular pencils and a box of coloured pencils. Whenever anyone sees something they would like to draw, we stop, haul out the art supplies, and draw. I then write down from dictation whatever the kids want me to write about their drawing (this is necessary to identify what they've drawn later). The kids drew a seed pod, a stump and a hole in the ground, several tangled vines and thickets, and a Monarch butterfly which sat perfectly still for 30 seconds at a time on each of 4 or 5 adjacent flowers. I drew the butterfly, and had time to get several of the details of its wing vein patterns (though not all) before it flew off. P was so excited about the butterfly that, instead of dictating a description, she had me spell for her "I SAW A BUTTERFLY" and wrote it herself. We then left the paved path for a dirt path that ran closer to the bayou, and found that it had 5 times as much poison ivy and many more mosquitoes than the paved path. P is quite able to identify poison ivy when she's looking for it, but not when she dashes off the path to get a closer look at something. Hopefully her legs won't welt up too badly. E enjoys counting the sets of 3 leaves on the poison ivy, but isn't quite as capable of noticing it among other plants as P is. On the way back, we stopped to donate blood to our local mosquitoes while P drew a remarkably accurate likeness of a fallen flower, and then discussed the question of why God made mosquitoes until we arrived home in time for lunch.

After lunch, my major task was cleaning house (the kids' room wasn't the only place in need of it yesterday), so I pretty much ignored the kids for the first half of the afternoon. When I was done, P asked, "Can we do some more school? Do you have any more colouring pages for us?" Fortunately, I did - I'd printed out colouring pages for this week's letter and had bought a cheap handwriting workbook a year ago, so each child did a page (E coloured in the letter outlines, P practiced writing the letter and coloured the corresponding pictures on the worksheet) and drew their own pictures on the back. Note to self: the kids both love colouring pages. This is likely to be very useful information.