Thursday, June 24, 2010

End of school; Fredericksburg

The last few days. I got lazy about blogging daily toward the end there, didn't I? I'll probably cut back during the summer, but not completely. We studied South Africa and Antarctica during our last week of school. We looked at the photos from our family trip to South Africa in 2008 - P was almost 4 then, and E had just turned 2. He has some very vague memories of the trip, and P remembers it fairly well, but the photos helped. We'd taken a few videos on our digital camera, including one of E at the lion park. I'm explaining that the lion we're looking at is a lioness, a girl lion, because it doesn't have a mane, and E lisps, "No! It's a boy dion!" This was greatly enjoyed by both kids. I think E enjoys seeing that he was once little and cute, since baby B tends to have a premium on that these days. Of course, E still is little and cute, just not the littlest and cutest. We watched "March of the Penguins" to go along with our study of Antarctica, and marveled at what those birds go through to obtain babies. Pregnancy may have its frustrations, but it isn't months of starvation in blizzard conditions balancing an egg on one's feet. During our math time, we played a lot of RightStart games, including a modified beginners' version of "Corners" which P loved.

Fredericksburg. We spent last weekend in the small town of Fredericksburg, TX where my inlaws are considering buying some property. Our major task for the weekend was to use a ground conductivity meter (glorified metal detector, AKA The Beast) to search for hidden trash on the property. There is plenty of un-hidden trash in a ravine on the ranch, including historical refrigerators, cars, and at least one wild hog carcass. They just wanted to make sure that what they saw was the total of what they'd get. However, it turned into an enjoyable family weekend. Ari's brother and his family joined us on Saturday morning, and we all went swimming except baby B, who napped, and Ari, who read the manual for The Beast. That afternoon, we all hiked to the top of Enchanted Rock (except baby B and my nephew G, who were carried). We got our new digital SLR the day before leaving for Enchanted Rock, so we went wild taking pictures. Unfortunately, I haven't loaded any of them onto this computer yet, but I have the best of intentions. Once our hike was over, we met up with Ari's parents and grandparents, and drove out to the ranch, which is only a mile or so from Enchanted Rock. It was too late in the day to be worth hauling out The Beast, but we walked around the property and admired its beauty while being sobered by the ravine full of trash. We spend Sunday relaxing around Fredericksburg - swimming, of course, to the kids' immense satisfaction, and falling off a large inflatable swan into the swimming pool. On Monday, there was a lot of teamwork involved in putting up evenly spaced flags to systematically scan the field they were most concerned about, but taking care of 3 small children in a field full of grass burrs was complicated enough that I wasn't able to contribute to the cause. Instead, I headed back to the hotel with the kids. We met Ari's grandparents, who were about to head back to their home in College Station, and had lunch with them at the Rather Sweet Bakery. As the name would suggest, their emphasis is on dessert, and the children each got to order a confection as big as their heads. I split each child's dessert in half, so that I got a whole dessert, they each got half, and we all got way too much. But decadence is half the fun of being on vacation. On Tuesday morning before we left, I took the kids to a hand-carved candle store, where we bought $1 candles made of wax remnants for each kid, and on the way back we paid 51 cents for the privilege of turning a crank to squash a design onto a penny. A great time was had by all.

Our next major adventure will consist of my brother's visit. He postponed it for a week to spend time with a young lady he's fallen head over heels in love with (at least, that's how my mom describes it), but we fully expect to see him at the airport tomorrow afternoon, ready to be interrogated about his love life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


And I conclude that our first year of formally homeschooling has been successful in every way.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Week 34/35, day 4

Thursday. P's violin teacher asked her to practice 3 times daily, playing each of 3 pieces (only 4 measures each, but still) 3 times through. She practiced twice today, but I'm already seeing significant progress. After I had P and E review memory verses and update the calendar, E wandered off while P read her reader and did her copywork. She did her 5-a-day math review all by herself. 2 of the questions were games. We played card games from the Right Start Math package I bought at the homeschool convention in San Antonio. We started with "Go to the Dump", which is a variation on "Go Fish" where instead of finding pairs of identical numbers, you find pairs whose sum is 10 (for example, if you have a 6, you ask for a 4). She did this easily, which surprised and pleased me. We then played a game with an empty clock face, on which each of us took turns placing number cards from 1 to 12 and :00 to :55. P enjoyed both of these games, so I suspect we'll end up playing them frequently in future. In the afternoon, after P's second practice, I had her make a book about Nigeria. She drew a flag, coloured a map, and drew a gorilla in a rain forest, a girl carrying a bowl on her head, cacao beans, a girl in a colourful dress, and an open-air spice market. She also spontaneously wrote a "poem": "runing in the praree/ the gros wavs/ in the wind/ and mi sgrt wavs/ in the wind." (gros = grass, sgrt = skirt). She illustrated it, too. It's fun to see her writing ability grow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week 34/35, day 3

Tuesday: Sea World! We had a marvellous time at Sea World. We started out watching the dolphins. We happened to arrive at feeding time. Visitors may spend $6 for a tray of fish to feed to the dolphins. We felt that since we'd already paid over $200 for tickets and parking, we didn't need to pay to feed the animals as well, but we got to see the dolphins pretty well after they'd eaten their fill. They even splashed us!

We visited the reef and sharks exhibit next, which was similar to many other aquariums I'd been to. uShaka, a similar park in South Africa, cost about a fifth as much and the aquarium section was better. Ari explained to the kids how fishes' gills have the same function as our lungs, namely getting oxygen into the blood.

We ate lunch (like many places, once they have you trapped they can charge what they like for food, particularly given their "no outside food" rule), and went to see the orca show. That was impressive, though we were a bit annoyed by the TV screen with images competing with the leaping orcas. It was hard to tell when they wanted you to look at the animals, and when they wanted you to look at the screen. Perhaps people who own TVs are better at paying attention to both simultaneously, but I maintain that they can't do a very good job of either in that case. However, there was a baby orca (born this January) which accompanied its mother while she did her tricks. After the show we hung around for a few minutes to watch the orcas just swimming, until they kicked us out in order to clean the stadium.

The second show we went to changed my mind, and made me feel that the price we paid had been reasonable. It featured belugas, dolphins, macaws, and amazing humans. It was beautifully choreographed, something like a circus show but with more of a sense of beauty and wonder. Divers swept through the water, propelled by fast-moving belugas on whom their feet rested. Synchronized swimmers, divers, and trapeze artists in fancy costumes performed amazing tricks. As one performer climbed up and down long red sheets attached to a hoop in the ceiling, red-winged macaws swept past. I had never seen people do such amazing things, and the way they combined their act with the trained animals added to the sense of awe.

We next went to the sea lion show, which featured a mini-play featuring sea lions and an otter. It was amusing, but didn't really give you a sense of what sea lions or otters are like - just what they can be trained to do. However, after the show, we were able to see them swimming around their enclosure as people fed them (again, for $6 per dish of fish). There was a 2-day-old sea lion nursing from its mother, and we were able to get a good view of it. The area had a faint smell of fish, vaguely reminiscent of a seal-filled island near Cape Town that I saw when I was five, but it was clear that Sea World keeps its facilities much cleaner than seals in their natural habitats do.

After the sea lions, we gave the kids the option of watching the orca show again before looking at the penguins and heading home. We were glad that they chose to, because it meant they weren't burned out yet. The second show was quite different from the first. The animals decided not to cooperate, so we heard a lot more about how the animals are trained. The keepers reinforce positive behaviour, and ignore negative behaviour - they spent much of the show time ignoring the orcas. Ari commented that this wouldn't work with kids, because kids left to themselves will put themselves in dangerous situations and will cause destruction to property, unlike orcas in a tank. We enjoyed the second show more than the first, because we could see more of how the orcas naturally like to behave. We actually got a better view of the baby orca as well - when its mother felt like leaping from the water (not in response to a trainer's request), it leapt too - beautiful.

Since it's southern winter, the penguins' enclosure was kept dark. This made it hard to get a good view of them, though a few of them were swimming around in their near-freezing tank. The puffins, on the other hand, were fun to watch - they're northern hemisphere creatures. In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day, and I'm glad we did it, even though it was a total of about 7 hours in the car. San Antonio is about as far as one can reasonably go from Houston for a day trip.

Wednesday. After P and E got back from "Oma Day" and I got back from my flying lesson (which unfortunately didn't involve flying, due to extreme turbulence and low clouds), P went to her violin lesson. Her teacher is moving her fast and expecting a lot of her, and she is reluctantly rising to the challenge. I think it's good for me as her teacher to see how someone else interacts with her in a learning situation. Since I know her really well, I can understand her better than the violin teacher can, but it's good for me to see just how much the teacher is expecting of her - it makes me feel happier about my own high standards for her.

After the violin lesson, we did school. P read a new reader (the next to last one), did the day's copywork, and completed her math worksheet. We read a book about Nigeria, as well as a story from Stories from Africa about a Nigerian girl whose father made her live with the goats when she became a Christian and refused to steal the neighbours' hen. I plan on having P make her book about Nigeria tomorrow - I think spreading it over 2 days helps a lot.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The book is wrong! (Week 34/35, day 1)

Thursday and Friday. I got too busy to blog the last few days of last week. School went on as usual; I introduced another letter for which we made a letter sheet, and I tried to read to the kids about Egypt but they were too antsy to sit still for it. On Saturday we did a lot of walking - P and E badgered me to go for a walk with them in the late morning, and then in the evening we walked to dinner and back, so they probably covered a total of about 4 miles on foot without help over the course of the day. As Ari said, they're the children of hikers who are the children of hikers who are the children of hikers...

Monday. We looked at the letter X in language arts today. Of course, the number of words starting with X is limited, and the number of words starting with both X and the "ks" sound is zero, so we looked for words merely containing the "ks" sound spelled X: fox, six, ox, etc.

We did get to reading about Egypt. We had 2 library books, one written at the kids' level, so I read it to them almost verbatim. Whoever converted the fahrenheit measurements into celsius did not understand the standard formula. Quick poll: does this statement make you wince?

"Hot winds can cause the temperature to rise 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) in just two hours."

Choose one, please. Not both. I don't know for sure which figure is correct, and whether the original figure was given in degrees F or degrees C, though 68 degrees F is more impressive. The author then naively applied the standard conversion formula: Degrees C = (Degrees F - 32) * 5/9 (or the inverse, Degrees F = Degrees C * 9/5 + 32). It's the 32 that got him into trouble. When comparing an increase, you don't need to correct for a different zero point - the result should be that the temperature can rise by about 38 degrees C in just 2 hours (or by 36 degrees F, if the 20 degrees C was the original).

I'm going to write to Scholastic Publishing and alert them to this error (and ask them which figure is correct). I will explain it to them in more detail, using smaller words and bigger pictures, than I did above, because I assume my average blog reader to understand math more deeply than the average book publisher. I'll let you know if I can convince them.

My kids will understand math better than this, if I have anything to do with it. This is one of the joys of homeschooling - you observe the howling ignorance around you, and you say, "I have the power to help at least 3 little people grow up to not exhibit that particular type of howling ignorance." I won't let them just plug and chug into a formula they don't understand.

P enjoyed making her Egypt book, particularly once she realized she could write her name in hieroglyphics. She drew a flag, coloured a map (she coloured the area around the Nile green, and the rest yellow, adding little red "rooftops" clustered around the Nile delta to show that more people lived there), and drew the Sphinx, the Nile, her name in hieroglyphics (she asked me to write "hieroglyphics" for her - a bit intimidating for a 5-year-old), the pyramids, and the Sahara Desert. She then copied down all the hieroglyphics and their equivalents that were listed in the library book and that weren't too complicated-looking (she left the bird drawings alone). I suggested taking the book back to the library this afternoon, but she wanted to keep it in order to keep playing with hieroglyphics.

Tomorrow, we plan on driving to San Antonio to visit Sea World. Should be fun!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Week 32/33, days 2 and 3

Tuesday. Nothing much of note happened during our formal school time. Both P and E wanted to watch the math video, and half an hour's search failed to turn it up, so I let them watch another video instead. We then spent an hour or so looking at some of my dad's photos from Israel, Jordan, and the surrounding areas. Half the photos I couldn't identify, but there were a few featuring me in pigtails or my brother in a stroller (we lived in Israel when I was a preschooler), or my brother and I as teenagers (when we lived in Jordan), which held the kids' interest. We also looked at my dad's photos featuring the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb, retelling the Easter story with photos of where it happened.

Wednesday: Geography. This morning, inspired by my inability to find the math video yesterday, I did some serious clean-up in my room while Ari's mom took the kids out. I feel much happier now, even though the math video didn't turn up. P's violin lesson was right after the kids got back, so we only started school at about 3pm. Because P and E were tired, it took more pushing than usual to get through everything I wanted to. We were studying Israel today (which is why I showed them those pictures yesterday), and we spent some time looking at the children's atlas page. In addition to talking about various places where Biblical events happened, I gave a brief overview of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was easy to frame in terms of P and E's everyday skirmishes. P looks at E wrong, so E says, "No, P!", so P roars at E, so E hits P, so P hits E harder, so E hits P harder while yelling at the top of his lungs, so P hits E yet harder while shrieking at the top of her lungs... by this time the kids were rolling on the floor laughing at my description. I explained that unfortunately, some grown-ups in charge of countries or large groups of people act like that, only worse, when they both want the same thing (namely, the land). Neither side can have all the land they want, so they scream and hit each other (or blow each other up) and unfortunately their mother doesn't come in and pull them to opposite sides of the room, because countries don't have mothers. Having lived on both sides (Jordan - whose population is more than half Palestinian - and Israel) I tend to be impatient with anyone who casts either side as the "good guys". I agree with my dad on this: in his "Christian Perspectives on the Modern Middle East" class, he informed his students that in his class, there was only one stupid question: "Who are the good guys?" There is only one good guy, and as it turns out he was born in Israel, roughly 2000 years ago. Jesus is the only one who can transform a hating heart into a forgiving one, and I personally am beyond thankful that he can and does.

In any case, we looked through the pictures from the library book I got about Israel. It was clearly written by someone who didn't care for Christianity (our atlas mentions Jesus twice in its 2-page spread on Israel, whereas this 62-page book only mentions him once in passing, skips straight from the Maccabees to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD in the history section, and spends only 2 paragraphs talking about Christianity in Israel, listing it after the Baha'i and Druze and devoting more space to each of those as well). But it gave a relatively balanced view on the Palestinian conflict, and the pictures were worth looking at. P started making a book which I'll have her finish tomorrow. I made falafel for dinner, reminiscing about when we lived in Jordan and crossed the border, reaching Jerusalem somewhat after lunch time and thoroughly enjoying a falafel with my family outside the walls of the Old City.