Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spring fed

         We had relatives come down to Orlando to visit with us and we started out this morning by having a good- bye breakfast.  They had only been in town for just under 24 hours but it was wonderful to see them.  We showed them all around our hotel and they watched us feed the swan, fish and ducks again (as has become our morning routine!).  This morning though we saw turtles too in our little pond.  We had noticed some painted turtles the other day but today we saw a new turtle we had never seen before.  Once we looked it up we think it was a Florida Soft shell turtle.  We saw a bird of paradise flower and watched the squirrels for a bit.  It was a nice quiet nature study morning right in the middle of our hotel. 
It may be tricky to see but this is the soft shell turtle


      Once our guests had left we decided that, rather than hang around the hotel again today, we'd try out Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park.  This is a Florida state park where you can bring in tubes and tube down the spring.  The water stays a cool 74 degrees year round and is a clear spring fed brook/ river.  We rented tubes at a local place just prior to entering the park and once inside followed the park rangers directions to the head of the spring.  We jumped in and floated down.  I had bought a disposable underwater camera to take pictures and I was glad I did.  We saw many neat kinds of fish, plant life and shells.  We pulled out our tubes and headed back to our car to have lunch.  Along the way we saw a raccoon and stopped to watch him for a while.  We also watched the squirrels and enjoyed looking at all the different trees that were around us; many of which have Spanish moss hanging off of them. Evan spotted a baby squirrel lying on the ground and upon further inspection he appeared hurt.  The boys were upset but it was sweet to hear Evan say that he was going to come back when he was an adult and rescue the squirrel so he could help him feel better. 

      On our second pass down the river I was a bit nervous after having watched a baby rattlesnake swim across the spring and disappear into the woods not more than 5 feet from where we were standing and putting our tubes in.  I was much more watchful and not nearly as relaxed but I knew with all the noise we were making it was unlikely anything would come to close to us anyway (there were signs warning of alligators too but luckily we didn't see any).  We did see a large turtle floating in the weedy reeds on the side of the spring and the boys dove with their goggles on searching for sharks teeth that some of the other boys in the spring told us about.  We think Ian found one too.    I'd highly recommend his state park to anyone looking to have a low cost family day in the Orlando area. You can find out all about it and other Florida state parks here.  We had a wonderful day filled with nature study and a bit of geography thrown in too.  
     Along the way we saw a few more "new" licence plates and they now only have 6 more to find before we've seen them all.  Today they were thrilled to find Utah and North Dakota.  As much as I have them try to find each state on the map when we're crossing them out I'll also read aloud the state motto if it's listed on the plate and point out any interesting features on them as well.  So far on this trip we've seen so many different Florida plates showing everything from the manatees, orange trees, golfing, whales tale, and surfers to government, college, and hospital plates.  Mississippi's plate has the bayou on it, North Carolina has the motto first in flight with the airplane to honor the Wright brothers, and the list just goes on and on.  It's a great and very interesting way to study just a bit about geography. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Legoland/ Cypress Gardens

    Yesterday we headed out early to Legoland.  The park sits on the site of the old Cypress Gardens and opened just a year ago.  We were excited to hear about Legoland Florida since my boys have been asking to go to the one in California for years.  It was great.  The park isn't so large that you can't cover it in a day (though two days would probably have been better; even without much of a crowd we only got to ride each ride once and skipped a couple), it was very clean and tons of fun. 
      We watched a comical fire safety show that taught the kids to stay low and go, to stop, drop, and roll, call 911 for an emergency and my boys favorite to "put the wet stuff on the hot stuff."  They walked away from the show singing that little song.   We went on most every ride in the park with only a 10 minute wait at the most.  The kids went to driving school and got to drive little battery powered cars around a track.  There were little Lego areas set up throughout the park where kids could play and create while parents held their spot in line on the rides.  It was clean and so kid friendly; as all good kid parks should be.
       The most impressive part of the park though was getting to see all the amazing Lego creations.  They had mini city replicas of Las Vegas, New York City, San Fransisco, Washington DC, Kennedy Space Center, and various parts of Florida all represented.  Throughout the park they had large Lego animals, dinosaurs, even a full size car (with a video inside the driving school to see how it was assembled).  The ladies that used to walk around Cypress Gardens were recreated in Lego pieces as well and set throughout the park on benches. 
     We walked through the tribute to Cypress Gardens and saw the Banyan tree in the middle.  It was planted in 1939, it is so huge already and yet we could see where more roots were already growing towards the ground.  We saw fish, turtles, sausage trees and banana trees.  While the boys didn't think the gardens compared at all to the rest of the park we did see some really neat fauna and it was a great bit of nature set into the theme park.  We read about the knees of the Cypress Trees and learned a bit about the history of the lake and Winter Haven itself. 
        Cypress gardens was always known for it's water ski show and Legoland also kept that tradition, Lego style.  We sat to watch the pirate water ski show complete with Lego characters.  There were boats, water skiers, a ski jump, and jet skis.  The kids sat in the splash zone and got a bit wet.  They were in awe of the water skiers and all the tricks they could do. 

         We took a walk through a Lego "Factory" that I must admit was a disappointment to me.  I thought we'd actually get to see a small demonstration of a factory but it's really more of a recreation.  In a tiny room next to the store they show a short (fictional) video about the Lego factory followed by an even smaller room that has models set up showing piles of tiny plastic going into a machine and coming out on the other side as a block.  They then explain that the pieces are inspected before being boxed and shipped.  It was still educational and the boys wanted to shop for Lego sets before leaving anyway so we were happy.  It was a great day and so much fun.  I'm sure we'll be back on future trips.    

Friday, September 28, 2012

So that's what dad does!

   We wanted to hang around by our pool and hotel today since it was going to be 90 degrees, but my husband had worked in Florida 4 or 5 years ago on a large plant that he periodically visits and Ian really wanted to go check it out.  So my mother in law stayed at the hotel with the younger two and let them swim in the pool and use the water slides while my husband and I took Ian to the block plant.  But first we ran into a hotel employee who had been feeding the birds and fish and let the boys help.  We didn't know it but there were also large catfish in the pond with the swan and a very large carp as well.  We learned the swan was in fact a boy (which Ian and Evan guessed it to be- they named him Toby).  We went for a walk to the front desk and found several more licence plates to cross off of our lists along the way. 
     While driving to the plant Ian and I played mad libs and he read the stories back to me.  I was more than happy to play along when he asked as I figured it was a great self- guided lesson.  Once at the plant Ian was in awe of all the trucks, loaders, fork lifts and cement mixers.  This company makes concrete paving blocks and have an automated system with conveyors and everything.  They weren't producing blocks today so it was safe for us to walk all around the facility and get a personal tour.  We saw the kiln, the storage bins and learned that the cement is a rather dry mixture that resembles wet stone more than concrete.  They talked about how much they produce and sell and the costs of pallets.  Ian asked a few questions but for the most part was just happy walking around checking things out.
        We got back to the hotel around lunchtime and after everyone ate we ended up back by the pool.  We played on the water slides and swam until the poolside show.  Alec and Ian were both called up to participate and had no problem getting up in front of the huge crowd that had gathered and participating.  Alec's team had to wear very large bathing suits (over their own) with sponges sewn onto the butt.  The object was to soak the sponges in water then waddle over to an empty bucket and squeeze all the water out.  They worked in tandem to try and fill up the bucket the most; and they did.  He was so excited to win.  Ian got called up as part of a relay team.  After getting slimed they had to work a circular bungee chord from their head to their feet and pass it along to the next person in line then the last person in line had to smash a whipped cream pie in their face; the first team to finish wins.  Ian's team won.  They worked great with these total strangers and cheered their teammates on loudly.  It was a great day.    

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sea World

          We went to Sea World yesterday.  With 5 shows going on we planned to watch two or three yesterday and the remaining ones another day.  With 10-15 rides again we figured we'd ride half and save the rest.  Thinking it wasn't a huge park we could go a nice leisurely pace and have a great time.  While we did have a good time and ended up seeing more than I had hoped it wasn't relaxing or leisurely.  We MOVED through the park soaking up all the sights.
       We got into the park and I handed Ian and Alec a map.  I told them they could pick where they wanted to go and as long as they could get us there that's what we'd do.  Then we just started walking while they decided what to do and where to go.  We saw flamingos and Evan explained to my husband that they're pink because of the food they eat.  Alec told us all that flamingos are extinct in the wild in Florida.  We learned that male and females help incubate eggs and the reason that they stand on one leg is to conserve body heat.  We went over to Manta but it was temporarily closed (we made sure Ian could in fact ride it) and then planned to try it out later in the day.  Instead we walked over to the pelicans and learned many are hurt when tangled in fishing lines and nets.  From there we walked over to pet and feed sting rays.  Alec was too intimidated to do either and Evan was too short to feed them.  You have to put a piece of shrimp between your fingers and place your whole hand underwater.  A stingray will then swim up and over your hand sucking up the shrimp as he goes by.  It was really neat!
        We then headed to see the dolphins.  We got splashed a bit but didn't mind since it was pretty hot.  We went to see the turtles, manatees, and alligators.  The boys played a video game where they had to race their turtle to the beach avoiding dangers like oil, fishing nets, hooks, and lines, while eating enough food to survive so they could lay their eggs.  It was a great fun way to learn about the effects of pollution on ocean life.  We made our way over to Atlantis, only to find that the ride was temporarily closed (now we're getting a bit annoyed & I was worried we'd never get to see everything).  Since it was after 11 and the Shamu show started at noon on the other side of the park we headed there and planned on going back to Atlantis later.  Ian really wanted to get splashed during the show so my husband sat with him while my mother in law and myself took the other two a bit higher up.  We sat for 45 minutes while the stadium filled completely and the trainers attempted to coax the large male orca whale to the back tank.  They were unable to coax him out and had to cancel the show.  They added a 2:30 show but we decided to skip it and see everything else in the park we could while the bulk of the crowd was at the show.  It worked and we finally made a good size dent in the park attractions.
       We stopped for snacks and my husband told me he thought I'd better turn back into a power mom since we really hadn't seen or done much of anything.  I argued that even if I had planned everything out we still would've wasted a lot of time since everything seemed to be broken down; not something I would've planned on.  Evan went on a kiddie coaster while the older two boys found their way through a large maze of rope bridges.  We went on a ride simulator to the arctic and afterward walked through the exhibit to see first hand beluga whales, walruses, and a polar bear (though only Evan and my mother in law saw the bear since they didn't go on the ride and he was back in his cave by the time the rest of us walked by).  By then the rides appeared to be up and running so we headed back toward Atlantis.  On the way we stopped to see and feed some sharks.   We also went to see the sea lions and harbor seals.  They came right out and up onto the rocks so we were able to see them quite well.  Alec stayed behind with my mother in law and fed them while Ian and I headed onto our first roller coaster.  It was called Kraken and wow! was it ever intense.  He loved it and laughed through the whole thing. 
      We all met back up and my mother in law took the youngest two through the aquarium at Atlantis while my husband and I took Ian on the flume ride.  There were actually several drops and it turned into a partial roller coaster at times.  It was great.  We walked through the aquarium after the ride and it was pretty small with just a single room containing jelly fish, a few sharks and a tank of assorted reef fish.  We went over and rode Manta.  You're suspended lying face down for this roller coaster and it was wild!  You go backwards head first into the loop, feel the spray from the fountains on your feet and come so close to the ground several times you feel like you could touch the grass.  After the ride we walked through the aquarium there and saw sea horses, rays, and an octopus.  By this time it was late afternoon and the boys were begging to guy souvenirs.  So while walking around looking for just the right thing for each of them I noticed that it was dolphin feeding time.  Alec was so upset we weren't swimming with them so I paid for us to feed them.  We got to the ledge after learning how to properly feed them and it was great.  They'd swim right up to you with mouth open and you could cup the underside of their jaw while placing a fish in their open mouths.  Everyone loved it; except Alec!  He didn't want to touch them and I was so grateful I hadn't caved and paid for us to swim with them.  While he loves animals so much but he is very frightened of getting up close to them.  He finally touched the dolphin with the very last fish of our entire batch.  They feel quite muscular.  I thought they'd feel like a ray but they don't.
Feeding the dolphins 

Whale encounters! 
Watching the show
Petting and feeding the rays
      We went into the shark encounter building and walked through a tunnel of fish.  Saw barracudas, sharks, and rays and by then it was time to head back to the 5:30 show of Shamu.  We got great seats and the show started on time.  It was amazing but Ian was disappointed that he didn't get wet even sitting in the soak section; though everyone around them did!  It was a great way to end our day and we were even able to stop and see the whales in the underwater tank on the way out of the park.  Once home we realized that other than all the shows we saw pretty much everything.   We were so lucky to get to feed so many of the animals and have amazing encounters with them all.  The boys all worked on some spelling, reading and strategy skills playing games like tic tac toe, mad libs, word scramble, etc while waiting for dinner.  They read all the signs today and had to do math to figure out how much spending money they have left.  We may not have spent hours and hours on what would normally be considered school work but it was great learning first hand about all the different animals we saw today and getting to touch and feed so many of them was amazing. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Vacation" day 1

      My boys watched their first sunrise ever yesterday morning at the airport.  We watched planes taking off and landing.  We learned all the safety features of the airport and the plane.  To occupy themselves on the plane we read books, did some math in the form of a telling time app on my Kindle.  We talked about geography as we used the Southwest flight tracker to watch our plane as it progressed down the east coast.  I was amazed at all the learning that took place on our first day of vacation.
     Once we got settled into our hotel we decided to walk around and check it out.  The kids were, of course, impressed with the arcade and the pool/ water slides but they were also loving all the different birds and insects and animal life we saw.  There were ibises, cranes, and a huge swan; which we ended up feeding.  We saw fish and even watched them jumping out of the water and over each other in order to eat.  We saw many little lizards but they were too fast to get pictures of.  We saw these big, bright, orange moths too.  It was pretty neat and the kids were so interested in them all. 

      We hit the pool for the afternoon and Alec made three new friends.  Two of the girls were from Australia and he was impressed with some of the different words they had for things.. "mom, they say adult like adul!"  He spent most of the afternoon with them and learned how to play billiards too.   Ian tried out the water slides, jumped, swam and watched a poolside show.  Once Evan came to the pool, after resting, he was read to jump in (without a life jacket!).  Since it was the deep end he had to wait for an adult but kept trying to swim out of my arms.  We finally took him over to the water slide section and that was it; he rode water slides non- stop for the next hour.  He loved them.  We watched the bucket turn green and mass slime everyone and then we decided to head back to our room.  Ian, Evan and my husband swam across the pool to collect our belongings but Evan didn't want to get out of the pool just yet.  He asked my husband to catch him when he jumped in and at least 5 times he swam back to the edge of the pool by himself with his head above the water.  I was impressed at how much his swimming continues to progress.
     We headed to Medieval Times last night and while the boys really didn't want to go (and really should have been in bed since they'd been woken up at 3:30!) they loved it!  The restaurant looks like a giant castle.  Inside they have suits of armor all around on display.  The great room has coats of armor all over the ceiling and souvenirs all around.  We were told to walk through the main building and across the courtyard to see a small medieval village.  I was picturing a mini replica of a village the size of most model train towns.  I was wrong.  This small village was one you walked through; they had a carpenters house, a basket weaver at work displaying period pieces, a blacksmith, a falconer, a torture chamber, etc.  It was a small museum like set up displaying tools, clothing, pottery, and the lifestyles of most of the towns people during the medieval ages.  It was pretty neat and very educational.  The boys were most interested in the torture chamber which I thought would be upsetting for them but nope; they loved it.  Unfortunately we then had a long wait for the show to the start and the boys were getting very antsy.  I was starting to think it might not have been such a good idea to book our dinner on our first night in town when they finally announced us all to our seats.  The boys LOVED the show.  We saw horses hopping, bowing, kneeling, jumping and kicking.  We watched the falconer train his falcon to swoop in and catch the prey he had swinging around on a string.  Then we watched knights battle each other to challenges like lancing a small ring off a hanging target, throw javelins into a bulls eye, jousting and even some staged hand to hand combat. The boys were cheering and jeering so loudly and at one point Evan cried when "our" knight appeared to be  loosing the battle.
     The boys did think they were going to enjoy the show but they really weren't looking forward to eating at all.  They did surprisingly well though.  Ian and Evan tried the tomato basil soup and garlic bread and loved it.  I was shocked since Evan never eats any vegetables but I was so proud.  Ian and Alec ate a good portion of the chicken, even though they didn't have any ketchup.  They all tasted the apple turnovers, and the herb crusted potatoes too.  I was glad they at least tried all the food and never heard one of them complain they were hungry afterward.  It was a wonderful first day of vacation packed with all sorts of science, geography, and living history lessons.  Some days I just love homeschooling so much I wonder why I didn't start doing this years ago!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Learning from our elders

      Today was a crazy day of errands as we prepare for our vacation.  We went to the library, the bank, and Walmart.  We finished packing our bags and then packed up the car.  The boys are so excited.  For the past 24 hours, I've heard all kinds of "I can't wait..."  they vary from jumping in the pool, going to Sea World, sitting on the top bunk of the bunk bed, and buying souvenirs.   It's always a bit crazy around here before vacation trying to get everything packed and ready.  This is the first family trip we've taken where I have had all three boys home with me and no time to just pack by myself during the day.   So, of course, I've enlisted their help and have had them working along side me as much as possible helping with the planning and packing.   Not sure how much they learned (or even helped) but they sure tried hard.
      Alec was so overjoyed to see our Dragon Keepers book #2, in at the library, that he read the whole first chapter out loud to us all while we were driving to visit the boys great great aunt.  Ian looked through a new construction book he had gotten in also but I know he couldn't have really read it yet since he was listening to the story too.  The boys are so sad we're leaving these new books home while we're gone but I don't want to have to worry about loosing a library book while on vacation.  Plus I figure if they're anxious to read them when we get home they'll be all the more focused on the stories. 
        We watched a science video this afternoon about gibbons.  We all had no idea that the numbers were declining in the wild due to the illegal pet trade.  We see many species of gibbons when we visit our local zoo.  We knew many of the calls they made but it was wonderful to see what their natural habitat would look like.  We also learned a lot more about how aggressive and territorial they are; something that's not always noticeable at the zoo. It was a great show and the boys wanted to watch another one about Orcas.  I promised them we could watch it tonight and that way we'll know a bit a about them before we see them at Sea World. 
          They played with some new toys and went outside too. Evan figured out how to get most of the new toys out of the package all by himself and even used the scissors safely. I was thrilled with this small show of independence since he does rely on all of us to do things for him more often than not. They rode bikes, used the swings and observed a really long worm on the ground, speculating as to why he was so big, where he was going and what he was doing. I'm always amazed at how much they find to do in one day and all that we accomplish.
        While visiting relatives this afternoon Ian and I worked on (helped finish) a 1,000 piece puzzle.  I keep thinking I want to set one up somewhere in the house for us to work on whenever we get bored and want something to do for a bit.  All of my kids enjoy puzzles and it's such a fun way to work on problem solving skills as well as improving their ability to really focus on details.  While Ian and I worked on the puzzle Alec played Uno and War (his two new card game obsessions), in fact, I think he played several games of each.  Evan was content to wander the house and look around.  He noticed so much stuff that reinforced many of the things we've been doing homeschooling.  He found a picture on the wall that was of a blacksmith shop- "look mom, just like at Old Sturbridge Village"  He talked about the bellows, the fire, and told me he thought the man was probably making a boarding ax too.  He noticed carvings of eagles, bison, mountain goats, ducks, beavers and other assorted animals.  He pointed to the painting of the salmon and told me they were swimming upstream to lay eggs, at which point his brother chimed in that it happens in Alaska.  Alec saw a book titled northern lights and told me it's also called the Aurora Borealis.  When the puzzle was all completed the boys looked at the birds and told me the red one was a cardinal, the blue one was a blue jay, the yellow one calls "potato chip!" and I reminded them it was called a golden finch.  The last one I really wasn't sure about.  Alec thought it might be a chickadee so he asked his great aunt, who knows a lot about birds, and sure enough he was right!   They played with paper, scissors and stickers and made picture collages out of them.  I love having my boys spend time with their elders since they are a wealth of information.  They talk about the history of our family and our town.  They teach the boys new games and introduce them to different foods.  Once again I had no intention of schooling today and yet they did some science, reading, art, history and math! 

Learning every moment

    I don't often post thing on the weekend because to me we're not in school and my blog is about homeschooling.  However, that doesn't mean my kids aren't learning.  My oldest son often goes to work with his father or grandfather and helps out.  He's learned (and continues to learn) how to drive various trucks, loaders and excavators.  While this often makes me nervous he is being taught the proper way to handle the equipment and has spent every moment of his life (that he's been able to anyway) riding along with assorted family members when they're doing work.  He helps rake, sweep, shovel, mow, etc and is pretty willing to do whatever job he can to help out with "real" work.   This weekend was no exception, within 15min. of waking up yesterday, Ian was running by me changing his clothes to go to work.  He leaves around 6:30 in the morning and I don't usually see him again until sometime in the afternoon.   When he got home yesterday he asked if he could ride his bike to his grandfather's house when he got up in the morning because they were going to be doing an oil change on the truck.  He was up and ready so early this morning we had to explain that we don't ride our bikes on the road when it's not yet light out and that while papa is an early riser we should let him sleep in a little before showing up at his house.  Ian was disappointed but watched Yukon Men and Bering Sea Gold; Under the Ice with my husband while waiting until it was time to go to work.  He tried to argue that the movie Karate Kid was educational too and would teach him all about karate.  
     My younger two stay home with me on the weekends and I often leave them to play together.  On a typical weekend they spend a lot of time in front of the TV or playing Wii.  Without using screens this weekend they didn't once whine or complain and found so much to do.  They watched me decorate a cake, helped pack our luggage, and picked out clothes for the family portraits we had done yesterday.  They also played with Lego's and a bunch of Evan's new birthday toys.  They got along so well and I didn't have to break up a single squabble!  They ran experiments to see which Zhu Zhu pet was the fastest, which balloon would fall from the balcony first and why (though they had no idea it was an experiment, they thought it was just a fun game).  They read and learned all about Evan's new Pokemon cards.  They took photographs with Evan's new camera and learned how to turn the flash on, center the subject matter so as not to chop off anyone's head, and what to do when the camera memory is full.
       Alec is learning to play soccer and he had a game last night.  It was an exciting game, made more so by the fact that they won!  They are all learning to work together as a team and actually passed the ball to one another a few times.  The referee we had for last night's game was wonderful and would instruct the kids on how to do throw in's or penalty kicks and gave all the kids advice on how to play even better.  On the way home Alec complained that at team practices they never practice kicking goals while running and having people running at you.  He told us that it's totally different in a game.  So we told him that's something we should practice then, either at home or suggest it to his coach for one of their practices.  They do scrimmage at practices but he's right that we often have them line up and practice kicking and kicking the ball while stationary isn't the same as kicking it while running.  

         Today we headed to Zoink's Fun Factory for a party with all of Evan's friends and cousins.  It was a great afternoon of exercise and socializing.  They all had so much fun playing and bouncing on the bounce pillow.  Ian realized if he jumped really hard and did a fake cannonball he could knock people over.  They had slide races and obstacle course mazes.  It was wonderful to see all the smiling faces.  We had a few tears here and there with some minor injuries but all in all it was a fun afternoon.
         While riding in the car the boys asked if we were going to be doing anything for school while we were on vacation.  While my husband was quick to say no, I said of course.  They all looked at me like I was crazy so I explained that while I wasn't bringing a single book or workbook on vacation we would still be learning.  I believe that if you pay attention and think about it everyone learns something new every day.  I reminded them that we hadn't had anything they considered schooling in three days yet we played math and spelling games, worked with Lego's, and learned a bunch of other assorted skills.  I told them that we'll learn and see new things at the airport.  We'll learn a little more about medieval times when we go to our Medieval Times dinner show and that will tie in with our history lessons.  We'll learn about sea animals when we're at Sea World.  We'll learn how Lego's are made at the Lego factory.  They'll get park maps we'll have to follow and learn to read.  They'll work on swimming and experience first hand the physics behind roller coasters and amusement park rides.  Ian piped in that we'll probably see some other licence plates while we're down there too.  We talked about reading signs, menus and all the print around us in our everyday lives.  So yes, even on vacation we learn.  Everyday, all day long we, as human beings, learn. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

So this is unschooling!

Today I gave my kids a real day off, or perhaps I should say I finally let them try what real unschooling is like.

While I was cleaning the house today, Alec and Evan were locked up in Evan's room working with Lego's.  As I sit and type this they have been locked up in there for almost 6 hours (and I do mean locked; they won't let anyone in unless we have a good reason).  The few times I peeked in to remind them to please at least eat breakfast and brush teeth there were Lego's everywhere.  But they are so happy and engaged in what they are doing I don't want to interrupt- at all!

I can only imagine all that they are learning by working with Lego's for 6 hours.  I know it must involve lots of problem solving, architecture and math even though they don't realize it.

They are learning to play cooperatively, something I think is just a bit harder for siblings, so I'm quite proud of them. 

I'm sure it will take us quite a while to clean up Evan's room later, and I'm betting Alec is still in his pajamas (since they are his favorite clothes) but some things just have to wait until later. 

Ian, on the other hand, has been a bit more restless.

He came into my room early this morning all dressed and ready (he had even had breakfast & brushed his teeth!) looking for something to do.

I was playing a new Sodoku game I had downloaded to my kindle and he watched me play for a bit and then asked if he could try a puzzle on his own.  I set him up with one that was called "very easy" and left him to it.  He played for a good 15- 20 minutes.  All he knew was that he was trying a grown- up math game but I knew he was learning all sorts of logic, patience, and critical thinking skills.  He was also taking part in a game that dates back to the 18th century so in a sense you could say he was living history for a bit too.  He didn't finish the whole puzzle but we saved it to work on another time.

He then asked to play outside.

Restless after playing outside by himself for a bit he wandered back in and found the rest of us watching a Crocodile Hunter show about Lemur's in Madagascar (Alec and Evan came out of Evan's room long enough to eat a bowl of cereal and had turned the TV on).  Ian watched the rest of the show and then begged his brothers to play a game with him but they went right back to playing Lego's. 

I felt bad and offered to play with him once I finished mopping the kitchen floor.    I found him in his room also playing Lego's so I guess it was just a Lego kind of day around here!

Ian and I played Disney Wheel of Fortune until everyone was ready for lunch. 

I loved that he suggested the game and he used, not only spelling skills, but math skills to play the game too. 

  • He had to figure out how much money for multiple letters (like when I spun $600 and got three H's; he multiplied to get $1800!) and make change when buying vowels.  
  • To be the host you also have to read a chart.  The game comes with a book that lists all the letters of the alphabet, when a player calls out the letter you have to find it on the chart and cross reference it with the puzzle number to see where that letter lands in the puzzle.  
  • He could have tried spelling the puzzles since, as host, he knew what they were but I didn't point that out.  I did, however, model that when it was my turn to play host. 

It was a great, fun, engaging game.  The best part was getting to spend time together just the two of us to really connect and have fun together.  With all three boys home with me all the time it can get a bit difficult to find quality one on one time so I enjoy every chance I get. 

 We had a picnic outside on the lawn so as to not mess up the kitchen I spent all morning cleaning.

As I was putting the lunches together Alec asked if we could listen to his book on tape outside.  I hadn't planned on bringing the radio out but figured why not?  It really only takes a minute to set up and I certainly didn't want to discourage them from listening to books.

We listened to most of Make Way for Ducklings and Macawber.

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I cleaned up the picnic and they went to play on the swings, in the sand, and in the woods.

I didn't have anything planned for this afternoon anyway since  Ian is spending the evening at his friends house and they were picking him up this afternoon.

I have to say I was shocked as I watched our day unfold.

I read all about unschooling and really thought it sounded wonderful.

In my heart I want to be an unschooler all the time but I often panic that we just aren't covering enough that way.

I'm a linear person; if we start a chapter book we'll finish it, if we have a math book we start at page one and work our way through it.

 Yet here I sit recapping our day and they did math/ logic, reading, some spelling, some science and all we did was "play"! 

I think I've finally got it and will try to keep our days unplanned like this.  Have materials and ideas handy for when they're bored (and I'm sure I'll still throw in those occasional "real" lessons) but I'm going to try very, very, hard to keep our lives unscheduled like we did today and just follow their lead. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fresh air and exercise.

    I got up early this morning and packed both a lunch and a dinner for all of the boys today.  I knew it was going to be a busy day of running around.  It's funny how much we're not at home when we're called homeschoolers.  Our plans for today included visiting the boys great grandmother in the nursing home, heading to a local park to play with their cousins and ride bikes, then we were heading to our trampoline class, then Alec was headed to soccer while Ian and Evan went to get haircuts.  It was a busy day! 
     When I looked into homeschooling I loved how flexible it was.  No two homeschoolers are a like; we all keep different schedules of when we teach, how often we teach certain subjects, how long we teach, etc.  I liked the idea of schooling year round.  If we work for three weeks and then take a week off we cover just as many school days as a public school system and continually have some fun "down" time.  I loved the idea that we could always vacation in the off season while everyone was in school.  It was pointed out to me yesterday that I haven't been doing that.  We've been going pretty much non- stop since we started schooling.  So today I decided we needed a break.  We didn't do one single thing school related! 
      Well, OK maybe we did one thing.  We read.  We were once again trying to read up on some of the library books we checked out.  So this morning Ian read Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site to his brothers, Alec read The Smiley Snowman and then I read Capital (a great U. S. history book about how the capital came to be our capital).  We then headed to the library and returned a bunch of books and checked out three more books on tape/Cd.  We listened to Strega Nona in the car on the way to our next stop of the day. 
         We went to visit the boys great grandmother and we stayed for a bit.  Typically we visit with her in her room since she has difficulty moving around much, but today they wanted to rearrange her room and so we sat with her in a different room.  The boys were thrilled to find that the room had two small birds- a cockatiel and a parakeet.  They were more than happy to watch the birds playing around in their cages and shared some of their bird knowledge with my grandmother.  She kept remarking on how smart they were and, of course, how big they are getting.  She started getting nervous that it was getting close to lunch time and she might miss it so we said goodbye and dropped her off in her room. 
           Our next stop was a lovely park/ playground.  My sister and I planned to meet up with our kids and just let them play.  They enjoyed bike riding around the paved track, swinging, climbing all over the climbing structures and playing basketball.  We had a picnic and just relaxed for two whole hours.  It was a beautiful day for it and all the boys had so much fun playing together.  If we hadn't had trampoline class next, I don't think my boys would've wanted to leave at all!
         My oldest son LOVES trampolining.  He hasn't stopped talking about it since we left class last week.  He has repeatedly thanked me for signing them up and letting them try it.  Evan is the only one who really doesn't seem to like it, but today he too seemed to enjoy it.  They all learned a few new "moves" and got to try doing a few flips with a harness on, even Evan who struggled with this last week gave it a shot and managed to get himself all the way around!  Alec and Ian practiced flipping onto a mat and I observed my children.  It's amazing how much I learn about them just by watching.  Evan started counting his jumps and counted up to 45 all by himself (last I knew he could only count to 25)!  He took a break and started pointing to all the different flags asking me which was which (self- guided discovery!).  Alec pointed to a few flags and called out their names as well while jumping; mainly the Florida (which he recognized from our schooling), Great Britain, and Mexico (which he recognized from the Olympics). 
       After all that exercise I wasn't all that surprised when Alec and Evan fell asleep on the way to soccer practice.  I figured after four hours of running, biking, and jumping it was well deserved.  Alec woke up before we got to the field and then him and Ian played soccer for a while.  This is the first time I've stayed with Alec for his practice.  I usually drop him off with my husband and head home with the other two, but tonight my husband had them so I got to see first hand what Alec is learning.  They practiced ball- handling skills, had a mini scrimmage and worked on teamwork.  It was a wonderful day filled with tons of sunshine, smiles, and exercise. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When days go bad...

           I try really hard not to use worksheet with my boys unless I feel I have to.  There are those days where just a quick lesson is all we have time for and I find worksheets are much quicker than a hands on lesson.  I also think because worksheets are typically faster and less meaningful for children the quality and quantity of their learning just isn't the same either.  However, some days I needed quick and easy for school and today was one of those days.  I hoped I had at least found "fun" worksheets for the boys to do.  By the time I finally got them to get dressed and sit down at the table I wasn't even sure I cared if they were having fun.  It was one of those morning where no one wanted to listen to anyone.  They bickered and fought and I felt like I had yelled so much by 9 a.m. that I was ready to walk out the front door.  I, obviously, didn't.  But I did send them to their rooms.  If school takes longer than usual, fine.  If we scrap what little I had planned for today and take an unscheduled day off that's fine too.  I try not to let stressful days like this get to me too much.  Even when my kids were in school full time our mornings were fraught with bickering, yelling, and not listening.  They're kids and that's what kids do.  Some days I'm better equipped to handle it and other days I just can't deal as well.  Today was one of those days where I wasn't dealing with it.  At all.   Anytime they acted up I stopped what we were doing and sent them to their rooms.  I threatened to take away all screens until vacation.  I threatened early bedtime too.  My kids know these aren't empty threats.  I don't mind being a "mean mommy" now and then if that's what it takes to get through to them.  But I don't like being "mean mommy" and love the days where we just have fun exploring and learning and I'm saddened when our days don't turn out that way. 
          The upside of our awful morning was that they read a lot today.  Each time they went to their rooms I handed them one of the library books.  I want to return them all by Friday, so I told them to take one last opportunity to read them.  We finished reading Dragon in the Sock Drawer together at lunch and requested book #2 for when we come home.  Evan attempted to "read" his Batman books today and did pretty well.  He is by no means looking at the words and reading them but he is trying to retell each page of the story and uses some of the right words to do so.  I know memorization of favorite books is one of the steps in learning to read so I'm very excited. 
          They somehow managed to all complete another math lesson; Evan finished a dot to dot (up to #25) in record time and the older two boys did another Shel Silverstein math/ poem that was all about money.  Ian did really well but Alec needed quite a bit of help.  He's just starting to learn about money so I sat with him and we went through question by question after he had given them all a try on his own.   He was able to add some larger numbers like .80 + .11 in his head though so I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he's mastered this skill too.  He's getting downright speedy with the money when we play monopoly now. 
            We scrapped the rest of our lessons for the day and went for a walk.  I thought we could all use a little fresh air and sunshine to improve our mood so we went and walked a trail or two at a local park.  We'd been there many times for parties or to use the field but never to walk the trails. I knew it might be muddy and I figured it would be a bit wet all around us but I didn't care and knew the boys wouldn't either.   We walked for over an hour and then came home for lunch.  We saw a lot of neat things on our walk and the boys made up many games as we trekked through the woods.  First we had to tag all of the trail markers and Evan kept tally of our points (it was a difficult system depending on who touched it and when-- that he made up as he went along).  Once they lost interest in that game they played sled dogs-- Evan was Balto, Alec was next in line and Ian headed up the rear yelling "mush."  We found many parts of the trail where a new tree had fallen (probably during last night's storms) and we had to find our way around.  We saw lots of fungi, caterpillars, and seed pods.  It was a great break turned nature lesson!  And I don't know about you or your family but I always find walking in the woods calms us all down and re-sets us for the day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A real experiment!

        We watched the movie Balto last night.  It was something I had requested from the library last week when we were finishing up our Alaska study and Ian mentioned the famous sled dog Balto.  I'll be totally honest, that while I did remember the name I couldn't quite remember what he was famous for.  When Alec asked "who's Balto?"  I turned to Ian and said do you remember.  He told us the whole story and I offered to look for a book or movie about it for us to watch.  The boys loved it!  We made popcorn and snuggled on the couch for a Monday movie night!  We never would have done that if the boys weren't homeschooling.  I would be too afraid they'd be tired at school if they stayed up late.  I'm sure they will be tired today but we'll just do a little less than usual. 
        By the time they woke this morning I was busy cleaning the bathrooms upstairs and left them to play on their own for a bit and I was glad I did.  They took out the new canister of pattern blocks we got in last night and all worked together to make an elaborate pattern that they then used for Batman's house or perhaps it was Mc Donald's since I did hear them saying something about a shamrock shake over and over.  It always makes me smile to overhear their conversations when they're playing without any adults around. 
        I headed to the grocery store this morning because we just couldn't put it off one more day.  I handed each boy a calculator once we were in the store and asked them to try and keep track of how much we're spending.  I had thought about making it a contest and offering a prize to the one whose total came the closest but I wasn't sure how frustrated they would get.   Now this might not seem like a great math lesson for most people (and I probably would have said the same thing) since they weren't actually adding themselves.  I handed them out when we got the store and Ian said "This is going to be so easy since we don't even have to add the calculator will!" But, for my boys who've never used a calculator before, this was a real learning experience.   Ian got frustrated and quit before we got to the end of the store.  Evan was just playing with the numbers but I was pretty happy to see he typed in the numbers I was saying at least.  Alec thought he had it right and ended up being only $8.00 off from the total price so he did pretty well.  They had to learn how to use decimal points and apply common sense to see if the totals made sense to them.  They had to figure out the cost of one item if it was on sale 2/ something or 3/ something and I only bought one.   They had to type quickly sometimes to keep up (like when I grabbed three gallons of milk), and they had to figure out how to fix the inevitable mistakes of hitting the wrong number or forgetting the decimal point.   It made the grocery store trip longer, a bit more stressful, but filled with life lessons. 
        While I put groceries away Alec and Ian played a game of boggle together.  It was a bit frustrating to hear them bicker but I tried to let them be and see how they would do on their own.  They played a few really quick games and mostly only found two or three letter words.  I find it is a much harder to play than a game like Words With Friends or Scrabble where you  only have seven letters or perhaps eight to work with.  I thought they did pretty well; esp. when they both came up with "hex" as a word and managed to use the x or "yoga."  While Ian and Alec went on to paint their stained glass pictures from yesterday Evan and I played sight word bingo.  I was so proud of him when he picked up a game board and said this is the one I used last time.  He remembered out, in, go, no, but, & two!  We only played once and that was a few weeks ago.  The look of pride on his face was priceless.  After that game we played a quick game of alphabet bingo and then he asked to go play. 

Their completed stained glass paintings 
        For science today we played with baking soda and vinegar.  First I gave them a tin of baking soda and a few cups of colored vinegar and few of colored water.   They used droppers to drop colors into the baking soda and see what happened.  I gave Ian and Alec a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and told them to write down anything they learned or observed that seemed important to this science experiment.  They quickly realized the colored vinegar made the baking soda bubble where the colored water made tunnels.  Evan thought that perhaps it was how high or how low you dropped the vinegar and water that determined if it bubbled or not so we experimented with that and found out it's not the height of the drop.  The  boys then tried adding vinegar to the water to see what happens when you mix them and then add them to the baking soda.  They were surprised to find it still makes bubbles.  Ian stopped periodically to write down his observations but Alec didn't.  I choose not to push it.  I knew they were learning by all the vocalizations and didn't need to read what they had written down.  I just wanted to see if they'd write more not thinking it was a writing activity and I wasn't asking them to write.  They put their hands in and mixed the containers all around.  Ian thought it felt a bit like goop (cornstarch and water mixture).  They all agreed the baking soda felt totally different than it did when they started.   Once we exhausted that activity we went on to combine the baking soda and vinegar in a recycled water bottle and blew up a balloon. You can find instructions for this activity here.   We talked about why that worked, whether or not the balloons would float.  We then pulled the balloons off and tied them up.  They don't float.  They're filled with carbon dioxide; the same gas we give off whem we blow up a balloon.  They had fun playing with them until they popped and left baking soda behind.  It was a great fun science morning.   We ended up eating a pretty late lunch because they were having so much fun experimenting they didn't want to stop!

            They finally ate lunch and we made quite a few fruit fly traps.  We read about them on- line and this method promised to rid the house of them overnight.  So following the directions we combined a bit of dish soap with vinegar (cider or wine works best) in a small glass bowl.  We covered the bowl with cling wrap and poked some tiny holes using a toothpick.  The theory is the flies are attracted to the smell so they fly inside the small holes and get trapped.  The surface tension of the vinegar is broken by the addition of the soap so...  I guess they sink?!  I feel bad for the fruit flies but they're just getting too bad to continue ignoring them.  We put one trap near the kitchen sink, one near the garbage can and one in the bathroom upstairs.  I already see a bunch of flies in all three traps but I still see a bunch flying around.   
        We watched the ending of the Great Barrier Reef and since it was pouring rain I knew it would be a long afternoon.  We plan on baking and cooking. playing computer, play- d'oh, Lego's, and the game of life.  I just hope we have enough time for all that before Alec leaves for soccer!  But, as I always remind the boys, there's always tomorrow.  We don't have to do everything in one day. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Who's learning here?

            Today, I once again, woke up unsure what we'd be doing today.  Sometimes I wake up pretty early in the morning and can't get back to sleep feeling guilty I didn't plan anything.  Today was one of those days.  I knew we'd read another chapter or two in our Dragon book since it's due back at the library this week and we really want to know how it ends.  Right now the baby dragon has been captured!  Other than that I didn't have any definite ideas of our day.  I'm planning on returning all of our books this week so we'll be doing lots of reading.  We pick out books from the library at least once a week, sometimes twice a week.  We often renew some books while returning others and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  At any given time we have about 20 library books in our house so every now and then I return them all and we start over. 
            After reading two chapters while eating breakfast, we ended up watching a short web video on how cider is made for science. I subscribe to Clickschooling, it's a great (free!) web- based curriculum site. I get tons of ideas about all sorts of learning games, videos, and site ideas delivered right to my inbox (sometimes I think it's too many; again there are only so many hours in the day and we can't use them all even if I'd like to!). One day last week, Clickschooling recommended a link to Carlson Orchards and I figured with our trip to the orchard coming up this weekend it would be great to watch this video today.   On our last trip to the orchard, I asked the boys if they remembered watching how apple cider was made on a field trip they took during pre-school but, other than remembering that the apples were squeezed they really didn't remember.  This was a great visual demonstration.   We talked a bit more about plants and how they grow and checked on our bean seeds, apple seeds, and pineapple plant.  Alec's bean plant is the only thing growing- in fact it's almost grown out of the bag!  Evan's bean plant must have had too much water since it's moldy and Ian's beans don't seem to be doing anything.  Our pineapple plant was attracting fruit flies (which are now found in every room of our house! Ugh!) so we had to put it outside.  It doesn't appear to be growing but I'm still hopeful it will sprout roots.  We watered the apple seeds since they looked dry and moved on to something else. 

Alec's bean plant- isn't it big?
            We started our next art project; a stained-glass-on-paper painting. I found this on That Artist Woman's website and I'm finding more and more I am relying on her ideas for art. I just love the projects she comes up with and it's great to be able to see a finished project before we start. Ian wanted to try drawing a loader, Alec chose a Luna Moth (because and I quote "it's the biggest of all moths, it's the size of a cereal bowl! And it only comes out at night!"), Evan chose to draw a Star Wars character.  I warned Ian and Evan that it would be real tough to draw their subject matter but I told them I wouldn't tell them they couldn't.  It's their art and it's up to them. Sometimes I think you just have to let them try.   My only direction to them was to fill up the whole paper and try to draw nice and large since we'll be tracing over the pencil lines with colored glue.  They really struggled with the drawing part of the assignment and I regretting allowing them to choose their own subject.  Evan quit without even touching his pencil to the paper.  Ian hated his drawing when he was done and flipped the paper over to try again.  I tried explaining to them that they don't have to draw something complicated to make a nice drawing.  A leaf, flower, or even tracing their hand would have looked very nice instead they were reduced to tears and ended up so frustrated, but so was I!  Sometimes I feel like I talk until I'm blue in the face and they don't care.  I reiterated that they needed to draw something SIMPLE and again gave them suggestions.  Instead Ian came over with a drawing of an excavator and I just threw up my hands and told him to give it his best shot and to draw whatever he'd like.   I hate when "fun" art projects turn out to be no fun! But I'm betting they learned a lot even with all their frustrations. I did too; I should have assigned a butterfly or a bird.  Perhaps telling them to draw the state bird of our next state and then tie in geography would have been best.  Ian ended up deciding to draw a bird anyway on his own and Alec finished his moth.  It was a bit tricky to outline the drawings with glue but we set them aside to dry and I think they look pretty good.  We can't wait to paint them!

           We did something different for math today.  Over the weekend we were told about Shel Silverstein math.  Sounds pretty crazy right?!  Well, this site has a few worksheets made up to go along with some of Shel Silverstein's poems (you can print out the poems, worksheets and answer sheets-- there's three poems but once given the idea I'm sure I'll come up with more on my own!).  We used the poem Band- Aids today.  My kids are familiar with this poem and it's a family favorite so I thought it was a good one to start with.  I love that this assignment combines math, reading and poetry in one and it was something neat and fun since the poem "is just hilarious!"
           I was also hoping to get the boys to work on their Alphabet books we started last week but wasn't sure if I was up for the whining of "writing... I hate writing!"  I had checked out a some alphabet books from the library as inspiration so we spent a bit of time reading those today.  I was excited since many of them were about the United States and I figured that covered our government/ history lesson for today too.  We read A is for America; an American Alphabet, D is for Democracy; a Citizen's Alphabet, & M is for Majestic; a National Parks Alphabet.  I set the older boys to working on their books and gave them a few options.  They could work on the words for each page or the pictures or some of both.  They can draw the pictures, use Internet searches to print out pictures or use the camera to take pictures. I told them this is a rough draft start to the story so if they find another item they'd like to use for one of the letters other than what they wrote down they can change it.  They are the authors and they're in charge.  It doesn't have to be neat or perfectly spelled or punctuated but I wanted them started.  Ian wrote the words to two of his pages and Alec wrote the words and drew the picture on his Antelope page.  It was a very short but sweet 10 min. writing activity without any complaining.
         We finished "school" by lunchtime and watched a show on DVR called The Great Barrier Reef.  It was really neat.  We learned so much.   There were many unusual animals and animal behaviors shown.  We also learned the history of the area.  I had no idea the great barrier reef was so young and that it had once been above water.  After the movie we headed out to do some errands and to stop at the library to drop off some of our books.  On the way we listened to some books on CD; I, Crocodile (again!), Waiting for Wings, and This Land is Your Land.  We dropped off the alphabet books we read this morning too.  I was thrilled to find that they are part of a huge series of alphabet books that cover just about every state in our nation.  While they are a bit basic they have beautiful illustrations and I'm thinking they'll be quick reads filled with lots of facts so they'll be wonderful for geography lessons!  We've already requested S is for Sunshine; a Florida Alphabet, L is for Last Frontier; an Alaskan Alphabet (even though we've learned about Florida and Alaska already I thought the kids would still enjoy them), and N is for Nutmeg; A Connecticut Alphabet.  Now that I've discovered this whole series of books I'm thinking making our alphabet books might be a year long project we'll pull out once in a while to work on rather than a month long project like I had originally hoped.  I think it will tie everything together rather nicely.   We listened to Rikki Tikki Tavi on the way home and I was trying to brainstorm some "fun" Connecticut activities.  I found great book and art ideas for Alaska and Florida by looking up things like the Northern Lights, Arctic, Polar Bears, Iditarod and Dog sled, Everglades, Manatees, etc... but I couldn't come up with ideas for Connecticut. We typically watch a movie when we're learning about a new state and I didn't get one this time... then I realized;  we can learn about Connecticut these next few weeks by going outside and seeing Connecticut!  That's a perk to living in New England.  The states are small, close together, and easily traveled.  
       I'm always amazed at all the new stuff I learn each day as I continue to homeschool my children.  They continually ask me questions I don't know the answers to.  I typically look up these questions on Google (I'm constantly saying I don't know how people taught before google!).  Things like "what do Swans eat?"  "What kind of seed (flower, tree, animal, etc) is this?"  Yesterday we learned all about the Woolly Bear Caterpillar once I had found one on the road and the boys starting asking questions.  I was amazed to learn that while it is born in the fall it completely freezes during the winter; blood, organs, etc, and then in the spring it will thaw out and turn into a moth.  I never knew that!  Or that this sea snail found in the Great Barrier Reef can swallow a large fish whole before stunning it w/ poison.  So many friends and acquaintances have said they never felt smart enough to homeschool their children and, while I was a teacher by profession, I never worried about that but I'm learning that the more I teach the less I know!  I learn so much by homeschooling my children and I think it just goes to show how much is out there to learn about.  Every school, every child, every curriculum has gaps in learning; they have to because no one person can learn everything about everything.  It's a huge, great big world out there and I think as long as my kids know where and how to find the answers to their questions (and that it's important to ask the questions) they'll be just fine.