Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Zoinks! That was fun.

   The boys wanted to head to Zoinks fun factory this week and since it was another cold & cloudy day yesterday we decided to seize the day and have some indoor fun.  There were only two other families there so it felt like we just about had the place to ourselves.  We all  had so much fun jumping, playing, chasing each other, throwing and catching balls, using the slide and the rock wall.  It was lots of fun.  The boys were great about including the smaller kids in our play.  We played games with them on the light up floor, showed them how to play "popcorn" on the bouncy pillow (a game the boys once made up-- you sit down cross legged with your hands on your knees and try not to fall over as everyone jumps around you), and broke into two teams to play a fun game with the balls inside the bounce house.  The bounce house is open topped and so the kids and parents in the bounce house tried to get all the balls outside it while the kids and parents outside the bounce house tried to get all the balls inside it; the first team to have everything cleared out for a count of 5 seconds would have won but we always seemed unable to keep either area clear for long enough.  We were all sweaty, out of breath, and having a ball all morning long.

    We listened to Harry Potter in the car on the way to and from Zoinks.  The younger boys started watching the second Harry Potter movie while Ian watched the first Harry Potter movie in his room.  It was a nice relaxing afternoon at home.  We watched all our butterflies hatch out of their chrysalises and tried to feed them some sugar water.  We're anxiously watching the weather since we can't release them until it warms up enough. 
  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Our old stomping ground

    The boys remembered my promise for a real week off from school.  We've been looking so forward to an April vacation and we kicked off just right with a trip to the zoo.  I told all the boys as soon as they got up that we would be going to the zoo today but that since it was vacation they could watch TV, play video games, etc. and not get ready right away.  I counted on their enthusiasm to make sure they would be ready in a timely manner and it worked!  We read a few more chapters in Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone at breakfast and then the boys helped me pack lunches and get out the door.  We were planning to stop at the library and the post office today but decided to wait until after the zoo since Evan had a chapter book due back that he had not yet finished reading.  Alec offered to read it out loud to Evan in the car so we all got to laugh along with A.J. and his friends in the Weirder School Book, Miss Kraft is Daft.  We also had a great discussion in the car about the big bang theory.  I have no idea how Alec learned what that was but when there was a sentence in the book that talked about the big bang theory, Alec took it upon himself to tell Evan what that was.  Even though he knew what it was he didn't totally understand why scientists believe in that theory and started asking questions.  Next thing I knew we had talked about evolution, about the Christianity view of creation, we talked about our Earth's orbit, why and how we have seasons, the Earth's axis, the old beliefs that the world was flat and the Earth was the center of the universe.  We talked about hypothesis and theories and why scientists can't know for sure how human life started.  We talked about how theories change as new information is discovered and learned. We talked about how science is all about asking questions and trying to find answers; but I warned them that along the way it usually leads to lots more questions.   It was great. 
     It was a nice (if somewhat still cold) day and we had a great time at the zoo.   Now that I'm a homeschooling mom I tend to look for any and all types of learning opportunities.  We don't do things all that differently but I sure do look at things differently now.   When the kids were young or in school and I was "just a mom" looking to keep my kiddos occupied I would have known a trip to the zoo was educational but I would have been more focused on keeping them busy and less occupied with HOW it was educational.  Fast forward a few years as a homeschooler and it's like I have education radar-- I just tune into those times we're having discussions so much more!  In the car I was thinking WOW! What a great science discussion and we're doing all sorts of reading today too!  Once at the zoo I noticed how much attention the boys paid to all the signs and maps.  Ian started pointing out which maps appeared to have animals that came from Guyana (most of the maps and signs show what continent the animals are from) but Ian now knows exactly where in South America Guyana is located and started pointing out all the signs that showed that area in red.  Alec was having a hard time deciding between a few stuffed animals at the gift shop (yeah, I know I'm a total sucker for souvenirs!)  and started to read the tags on them; next thing I knew he was telling me all about poison dart frogs.  "Mom, did you know that they aren't poisonous when they're raised in captivity?  It's their diet that makes them poisonous!"  He told me the difference between the American and African porcupine and one nearby zookeeper remarked "Wow! He really knows his porcupines!"  The boys and I talked about the feasibility of buying a membership.  I told them how much the membership costs, how much we paid for today's admission and we talked about how many times we'd like to visit.  The older boys could calculate cost difference and we all decided it's a much  better deal for us to buy a membership.  They talked about past trips and things they remembered.  They asked a zookeeper why some animals never seem to be in their habitat and they offered to show us the armadillo.  She brought it out, the boys got to pet it, learn about it, ask questions, study it up close and even watch it walk/ waddle around the room.  We learned about their predators, and that one of the biggest predators is man because they apparently taste very yummy.  She told us that the armadillo is 4 years old (and Evan told us he's 6 so he's a few years older than the armadillo) and that they can live about 12 or 15 years.  We saw lots of animal babies, a new (to us) species of monkey, and lots of changes to buildings and habitats at the zoo. 
I was told I had to take a picture of the bunny

The peacock walked around like this all day

we saw baby lemurs- "they're so tiny!"

we saw baby Jacob's sheep

the camels were out today

The tapir came out to just as we got to it's enclosure

My kids learning about the armadillo

three banded armadillo

the baby giraffe

the zebras came running up to the fence

the alligator was right up close to us for once

we watched the American porcupine climbing around in it's cage

we ate lunch right next to a turkey

Alec showed me what it's like to be a bird
basking in the sun

such pretty colors on the turkey

Mogli was looking right at us

    After we were done at the zoo we headed to the library and the post office.  We were mailing out our culture exchange box and we learned all about customs forms and the high cost of international shipping!  Yikes! I don't think we'll be doing any more culture exchanges for a while!  We headed to the library and dropped off books for their annual sale.  The boys were amazed at the piles of donated books.  We didn't have any books on order come in (which disappointed the boys-- they REALLY want our next Heroes of Olympus book to hurry up and get here already!) but they found tons of materials to check out.  Alec must have checked out 10 books on animals. 
    I'm thinking that on our day off we learned all sorts of  things!  We did math, read books, talked about history, science and geography, learned all about animal ecology and animal habitats.  The more we homeschool the more I tune into the fact that learning is life and learning is to be found EVERYWHERE--- even on our week off! 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Friday where I was amazed school got done at all.

     School was speedy by necessity Friday.  We had a LOT of errands and chores we needed to do-- get gas, go to the grocery store, go to Target (or another department store), clean the downstairs, make Ian's cake, etc.  I knew we wouldn't have a lot of time to sit down and work together on school so I told the boys I wanted them to do some schoolwork and pretty much left it at that.
    They all picked out a science video called Really Wild Animals; Animals of North America to watch.  They piled onto Ian's bed to watch TV on his new TV & DVD/VCR player that he got from his grandmother.  I loved that they were watching something educational and all getting along!
    The older boys took their math minutes with Alec starting on his 8 times tables.  Ian then worked on a multiplication page in his book that was "so easy!" Evan wanted me to sit with him while he re-read me P is for Pancakes and then worked on an alphabet dot- to- dot page.  I thought that would be too simple for him but he made a few mistakes and sang the alphabet song quite a few times through.  He then declared himself done with school and since he had been counting and asking us all subtraction problems all morning long I agreed.
    Alec told me he didn't have any schoolwork to do today since he did 6 or 8 math pages last Friday and wont need to do anymore until Monday.  He also reminded me that he read (and finished) his chapter book in the car while we were running errands.  I asked him if he'd like to try "writing" a story or sentence with our new word tiles, but after a few minutes of working with them and getting frustrated he decided to pull out his book and finish writing his peacock story.  Once he was done he read the whole story out loud to us all with a title and everything!
     When Ian was done with his math page he played with the word tiles for a bit and made up a silly sentence.  I asked him why there were different colored words and if he could substitute blue tiles for other blue tiles. He found that he could and told me that all the blue tiles were nouns.  Then we made up some REALLY silly sentences. 


    We finished our day snuggled on the couch reading the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I think the boys are getting so used to books on CD though because they seemed bored with listening to me read.  They know the story well enough that their predictions of what's coming next and who's who are right but they miss having different voices for all the different people. 
   Once we were done reading the younger boys wanted to play Harry Potter on the Wii while I cooked lunch.  They had all picked out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Macaroni and Cheese for lunch while we were at the store and I had offered to cook it for them.  They did such a great job getting ready so quickly this morning and helping while out shopping and cleaning the house that I thought they deserved a little treat. 
    It was a nice day out and so I coerced the boys into taking a walk in the woods.  We scouted some areas to re-visit next week and get some more sticks and saplings for our fort.  We stumbled upon a snake, saw some "new" swamp and marsh areas we never noticed before, and enjoyed the fresh air. 

The snake blends right in with all the leaves; Alec almost stepped on it!


    We ended our night with karate classes and a karate graduation.  Alec got his next belt which makes him an intermediate karate student and no longer a beginner.  We now have to buy him sparring gear and attend a few more classes.  Honestly, I dread this, but since the boy loves it so much I can't deny him.  I always thought I'd be a soccer mom; instead I'm a karate mom.  And, I couldn't be prouder (of all my boys!).

Friday, April 25, 2014

Geography Fair Time

  Yeah, the geography fair is finally here!  We had a few final things to finish up before the fair yesterday, so Evan and I made some crock- pot tapioca pudding nice and early in the morning.  We followed this very simple recipe and hoped for the best.  I have never made tapioca pudding so it was sort of like the blind leading the blind.  Evan helped me measure, count, and pour everything into the pot.  We did a little bit of math practice (after we added the first two cups of milk I asked him how many more we needed).  He made a bit of a mess with the tapioca as the little beads flew everywhere but he helped me clean up the kitchen when we were done and I told him that it's not a bit deal; if we make a mess we just clean it up.  I've been talking to all three boys a lot lately about being aware of what they're doing and cleaning up after themselves.  I'm definitely seeing progress but I know it's one of those thing that I need to keep working on as they grow. 

   The boys helped me load up the car and we did our best to make sure we had everything we needed.  I wasn't planning on doing anything for school since I knew the boys would be spending two hours learning all about various countries, states and times in history.  While sitting at my computer catching up on e-mails, Facebook, Pinterest and the like I stumbled upon an adorable video of a mama cat who started taking care of some baby ducklings.  I knew the boys would love this story so I called them over to watch.  The only link I could find was through Facebook.  There were many snippets of the same video found throughout Youtube and the web when I searched "mama cat and baby ducklings" but this was the only one I could find that had the WHOLE story.  It's amazing. 
     Our geography fair was amazing too!  We had fewer participants this year (which was a good thing since we had a smaller room this year too) but it was just as wonderful.  One family studied the origins of the Superheroes and mapped them out on a large world map.  They had found Avengers crackers for their snack and had a chart that we could fill out the country and continent of the Superheroes.  It's always neat to see ways families and children can tie in fiction with fact.  What a great way to get superhero crazed boys to learn a little geography!

A perfect snack!

   


















         Another family studied the Greek gods.  They drew up a family tree of the gods, had made a Paper Mache helmet, trident and Trojan horse.  They had a binder full of drawings they made of the various characters and gods found in the Percy Jackson series.  They printed out crosswords and word searches about the Percy Jackson series for their hands on project and served some yummy humus and pita bread for their snack.  Alec spent the majority of his time at the fair studying their board, trying to come up with the corresponding Roman names, and asking lots of questions. 


      Alec's Japan table was a big hit.  Lots of kids made the paper lanterns and we completely ran out of "sushi!" 

     Ian only took up a half table since his truck bin quarry went on the floor.  His fudge was a big hit though!  Most everyone who tried it thought it was super yummy. 

     Evan tried out his Tapioca pudding as soon as we got his table all set up.  Tapicoa pudding was NOT a big hit and we ended up throwing just about all of it away.  I was glad to see all three of my boys tried it though.  The dancing lemur video we set up on my laptop was a big hit with all the kids and many people made some paper lemurs to take home.  Evan remembered many facts about Madagascar and was eager to share them with everyone!
Trying new foods

Evan's display is all set up and ready to go

   

















We saw a wonderful display board all about the Galapagos Islands.  The pictures were beautiful!

     The report on Antarctica was a big hit since they had popsicles for all the kids.  What a creative snack that was! 

    Another little girl reported on Japan too.  She dressed up in a Japanese dress and had real sushi, wasabi, teriyaki sauce and chopsticks. They had lots of examples of plates and cups from Japan, Japanese writing and signs; it was great! 

    One of our homeschooling families just went to Cape Verde, Africa and so three of the children reported on Cape Verde.    One of the girls focused on the aspects of the trip that meant the most to her--- her family and friends. She made pudding de bolacha de Maria  (took this right from her mom's Facebook post since I don't think I would have a clue how to spell it!) and brought a craft where kids made paper loggerhead turtles since Loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs there every year. 


   One of the boys project focused on the geography and government of Cape Verde and the history of Brava. He made pastel de atun (a pastry filled with a mixture of tuna, tomato, onion, garlic).  He had a fun craft for the kids-- the got to make paper finger puppets of soccer players and got a bouncy ball to use as soccer ball.  All the kids were warned to keep the balls on the floor or the tables-- no bouncing inside. 

     The oldest boys did a power point photograph report on Mt. Fogo and made a replica of the volcano which he "erupted" for all the kids a few times.  He also made gufunghiu.  It was super yummy and all three of my boys tried it!



    












         The boys had fun walking around, looking at all the reports, trying the different foods and testing out a few of the hands- on papers/ projects.  Alec collected one from every table to do at home after the fair.  We sat down together and he filled out most of the Percy Jackson crossword puzzle.  Not having read the series there were some questions we just couldn't answer but he wants to hold onto it and finish the paper when we do get around to reading/ listening to the series.  He kept telling me that he spent most of his time at that table.  I wasn't surprised in the least.  He is very interested in mythology and has been for quite some time. 
    The boys spent the afternoon playing with the Kindle using the chess app and 2048.  They also took turns playing Harry Potter on the Wii.  Alec has learned a lot of new words and names and I'm hopeful that he'll want to read the Harry Potter series now!  The younger boys are definitely loving it; we went to my mother in laws for the night to help her pack up her house and the boys were chasing each other around outside and in.  They were pretending that they were Scabbers and Crookshanks.  They pretended they were Harry Potter, Hermione and just about all the other characters they could remember.  I think I'll have to pull out the book for tomorrow!
 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Using what works

  With lots of rain pouring down we knew we weren't going to be heading outside to work on our fort.  The boys were bummed and are really chomping at the bit for a day off.  We couldn't really take a day off though since we HAVE to finish everything for the geography fair.  But I did think I could make school a bit more fun today and let them use video games for some/ most of their learning. 
   Ian added some small pieces of aluminum foil to his bin of sand; it's his "faux bauxite mine."  Since bauxite is mainly used to make aluminum we thought it might be a fun twist for the kids to have something to mine for.  He broke off bits of tin foil and rolled them up into little balls and hid them throughout the bin.


  Evan went to ABCya! and played sight word bingo using he pre-primer words.  He played three games and then went onto play Marble math.  He played through all 5 levels and the bonus marble drop.  He made a few mistakes but you have to score 80% or better to go the next level so he did really well.  He then read a new book to me called P is for Pancakes but with long words like "delicious" in it he struggled a bit.  I told him we'd re-read it again tomorrow and then he can put it in his room in his book bin. 

    While Evan and I were working on the computer and reading stories, Ian was working on his math workbook.  He picked a page where you had to order numbers from least to greatest.  Not completely understanding the directions he put all the numbers on the entire page in order!  He was frustrated and sighing because he kept having to erase numbers and move them down because there were numbers he didn't see.  I finally went over to see what was frustrating him and I explained that he was only supposed to order the five numbers in each row; not the whole page.  I then had him tell me the order of the few he had left and told him that if he ever came across another page in this book that worked on ordering numbers from least to greatest or greatest to least he could skip it since he OBVIOUSLY gets how to put numbers in order!  I felt so bad that he, once again, made the work harder for himself than it needed to be. 

     Alec and I made his faux sushi for his Japan report.  We cooked up a batch of Rice Krispie treats, pressed them into a 13x9 pan and let them cool.  We then cut out small rectangles and put a Swedish Fish on each square and wrapped them with Fruit By The Foot strips as our seaweed.  They came out adorable and the kids can't wait to dig in and eat them.


       I had Alec working on the computer playing Coin Combo (where he had to add up various coins to get the amount shown) and then let him chose a reading game from Funbrain.com.  He decided to  play the plural girls game and picked out what the plural noun was for each singular noun shown.  He played a few times through for both games.  When he was done playing Ian also played a game on Funbrain.  He tried plural girls too but he picked the option to spell the words himself instead of choosing the one that was spelled right.  He also tried playing stay afloat which is a version of hangman using larger vocabulary words.  Both boys finished school by taking their math minute test.  Alec passed his 7 times tables and he was so excited!  Both boys are getting very anxious for our ice cream sundae party.   
     We checked on our butterflies and our windowsill plants.  The younger two boys had planted some beans while we were at the farm the other weekend and they have plants growing out of the cartons.  They were very excited to see how much they've grown in just a short amount of time.  We also started making a garden of leftover kitchen scraps.  We finished off our stalk of celery and put the stub into a cup of water.  The boys thought the celery might drown (I was hoping it would grow some roots) but we've discovered that the celery stalks are already starting to grow back!

     We offered to participate in a culture exchange a few months back and our family from England finally contacted us and told us that their box of goods is all ready to be shipped out.  So we sat together and typed them a letter explaining what the objects in the box had to do with our home state (or country if it was something like the flag).  We learned a lot about the history of our state and our rold in the invention of many modern objects, toys and treats.  We had almost three pages by the time we finished.  We also copied off a recipe for apple pie to go along with the jar of nutmeg we picked up to put in the box and we're anxious to mail it out.  Do you know what all of these items have to do with Connecticut?

        We headed to the library.  We had tons of materials that were due back today and quite a few more that we had ordered that came in and were waiting for us to pick them up.  I encouraged the boys to look around the library and make the most of our rainy day outing but since they all have quite a few books in their rooms already they weren't really interested in looking around too much.  I asked them to look for books that I could read to them for school and for our family read aloud (two things we've really gotten away from these past few months of working on our geography fair reports) since I really want to get back to that!  We finished listening to The Son of Neptune and we're anxiously awaiting the next CD in the series to come in-- Mark of Athena!  Alec read another chapter book on the ride home; Song Lee and the Hamster Hunt.  Ian didn't want to take the time to read his new books just yet but he did look through two of the books; going page by page studying each picture.  He tried to identify the brands of trucks illustrated in The Diggers are Coming.  He's getting quite adept at pointing out makes and models. 
    In between the schoolwork the boys all took turns playing our new Lego Harry Potter Wii game that we picked up last night.  They were all taking turns and getting along fairly well and as long as their schoolwork was getting done I didn't mind.  I also pulled out a box of magnetic blocks I had bought to save for a rainy day.  Ian had a great time building a house and his brothers soon joined him.  They worked together to build a three story building with attached garages and outbuildings. 
  

Their completed building

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fighting over math!

    It's not what you think!  My boys are fighting over who gets to play this new math game I downloaded onto my Kindle this weekend.  It's called 2048 and you have to combine sets of like numbers to get to 2048.  It's seriously addicting and I love that they're learning/ reinforcing math skills as they play and strategize. 


    Obviously, that's not all we did for math yesterday but I can't discount the hours (and yes they played for a few hours combined; we had hair cuts last night and they played in the car, at the hair dressers and even while they were getting their hair cut!) that they spent playing.  Ian did work on a few pages in his math book and I warned him that all the "easy" pages are quickly getting finished up  and I'm going to have to actually start teaching him lessons before he works on his math pages.  He looked daunted by that but I reminded him that it's a fifth grade book and if he could go through the whole thing independently without needed any help at all then he probably wasn't learning anything anyway.  The older boys also took their multiplication minutes and were each only 3 or 4 away from passing.  I pulled out our geobards and elastics and the boys played with those for a bit.  Alec developed a 4 grid tic tac toe board and we tried playing a few rounds.  Evan worked on making triangles of all different sizes and shapes.  He also made diamonds, squares, and lines with the elastics.  He was playing later on and counted by two's up to 16.  We learned the other night that he's very comfortable with applying math vocabulary to everyday situations when he informed us that putting peanut butter cups all around the cake was a great way to "line the perimeter."  Throughout the day as we talk and play he constantly asks us little math equations like what's 3-2 or what's 4+4 and stuff like that. 




He just couldn't put it down!


        

















       Evan and I played sight word Bang! again and he cheered when I brought the container out of the cabinet.  We played until someone got three bangs and for once, I won.  After playing he re- read his book The Pizza that Pete Made to me and he didn't even make any mistakes.  It amazes me how quickly he's able to remember these stories. Words he can't recognize as sight words when we play games barely give him pause when we're reading them in a story! 
      While Evan and I were working together on his reading skills the older two boys each worked on a page in their dreaded cursive books.  Ian entertained us with a few of the jokes from his workbook, but they definitely grumbled and complained while working.  I reminded them that their cursive books count toward writing too since they're basically doing copywork.  They're learning punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure as well as learning how to string letters together to make words.  Besides, other than their math page it's the only thing I had planned for them to do today so I didn't feel like a totally awful mom for making them practice their cursive. 
     We ran a taste testing lab for science today-- the boys each got a handful of Jelly Belly jellybeans and we tried smelling them, tasting them, and identifying the flavors.  The boys have never had these kinds of jelly beans and it was funny to see their reactions to some of them.  We compared the taste of the jelly beans to our memories of the actual foods and agreed that in most cases we prefer the actual food.  They tried combining flavors like it said to on the bag and found that most "recipes" were a bit deceiving.  Alec argued that two blueberry and a buttered popcorn in now way tasted like blueberry muffins.  They ended up spitting out a lot of the jelly beans into the garbage bag and drank an awful lot of water so I can't say they love Jelly Belly jellybeans, but it was a fun lesson on using our taste buds.  (OK-- yes I know this is just having a snack but I love that I can take ANYTHING we do during a day and find a way to apply it to education!).
still playing even during "science."

     Ian started making his Guyanese fudge today and discovered that fudge is HARD to make.  "It takes FOREVER!" was the constant complaint I heard.  I had warned him several times that he did not pick an easy snack, but even I was unprepared for just how long it took to make fudge.  Well over an hour into it and we still had liquid.  It took almost a full three hours before we had fudge.  The poor kid was on the verge of tears since it was such a nice day out and all the boys really wanted to go work on our fort.  I hated to be a mean mom but we are required to have a snack to bring with us and there's no way to put fudge on hold for later.  I offered to take over stirring but that was about all I could do to help it along.  They all agreed it tasted really good when it was done and we definitely learned what all the different stages of fudge look like and why fudge is called a labor of love. 


    While waiting for the fudge to finish I had the boys eat some lunch and we watched Valiant, a cute cartoon movie about a squadron of carrier pigeons working to help the allied forces during World War II.  We saw mock commercials that were reminiscent of recruiting commericals during the same time period.  We saw Big Ben, heard air raid sirens, learned about spies and even learned that medals were given out to dogs, cats and pigeons for real after the war. 
    We spent the afternoon outside working on our fort.  We started out in the woods, but within minutes someone scraped their leg and we had to walk all the way back to the house without a single stick.  It seemed like such a waste to me so I encouraged the boys to look around the small patches of trees we have around our yard to see what we could use that might already be on the ground. We actually found quite a few and made the walls a bit higher.  We also worked on filling in the corner of the fort since it was looking pretty wimpy and see thru.  We compared today's photos with yesterday's "starting" photo and were pretty impressed with our progress. 
    
Inside the fort

outside looking in