Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun videos for book lovers

Here are a couple of book-lover related videos I came across in the past couple of weeks. Enjoy!

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" from Moonbot Studios (this is long but very well done).

A great stop motion film done in a bookshop."The Joy of Books".

Friday, January 27, 2012

Life of Fred Elementary Books - a recap

Back in August I posted that I had purchased the new Life of Fred Elementary books. It's taken us this long to get through them, and I thought I would let you know what our thoughts are on the matter now that the shiny newness of it all has worn off.

Here is my original post:

Having (almost) finished reading Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs, I will say that my kids still love them even though they are pretty easy material-wise. For us it was just a matter of reading aloud two or three chapters at a time and verbally calling out the answers to the questions at the end of each chapter. There was a great deal of simple arithmetic, which for a younger kid would have been a wonderful non-threatening way to introduce or practice things. At the same time, really complex stuff was also introduced. Algebra was introduced right off the bat (simple substitution of a number for a letter), ordinal and cardinal numbers, sets, prime numbers, and other things that you might not necessarily have in early arithmetic books. Along the way, there were lessons about biology, history, the evolution of language and many other things. A rundown of what is in each book can be found here.

All-in-all, this was a nice little supplement for us. It was worthwhile to review and learn a few new things on the side, even though my kids are older than the target age group for these books. If I were picking them up for my Pre-schooler/Kindergardener/First-grader, I think I would still use them as supplemental because I don't think they really cover enough material to be a full course of instruction. I would especially recommend them to parents with kids that don't like math because the zaniness of the story line and the story format, itself, which effectively renders the material fun and non-threatening.

My daughter is starting Life of Fred: Fractions now. She's a classic math-a-phobe, so I'll let you know how that goes. Hopefully these elementary books have been a good warm-up and the change of pace from our usual curriculum (Singapore Math) will help to drive the lessons home.

By the way, there are now ten of these elementary books (I could have sworn there were just 4 in August): "Apples", "Butterflies", "Cats", "Dogs", "Edgewood", "Farming", "Goldfish", "Honey", "Ice Cream", and "Jellybeans".

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Random Learning Moments

I was thinking today yet again about how hard it is to cram all the little random learning moments we have in a day into some sort of record, or anything tangible that says, "Look here! We are learning things in this family!" I struggle constantly to try to fit it all into the little boxes I know the officials would like to see.

Yes, I do have a few books and curricula that we are following and trying to complete, but a lot of stuff that gets learned is either entirely random and/or un-catagorizable. For example, this past week my daughter has taken up trying to learn how to use my sewing machine. The result has been many useless items made out of felt, but I figure you learn by making mistakes and since I hardly know how to sew myself, it's better that she just figure it out herself than have me try to teach her anything. I guess this comes under the heading of "home economics"?

We randomly watched a video showing a Rube Goldberg machine, and my son has been fascinated all week. He keeps watching it over and over and finding new ones to show me on YouTube. I think this might be vaguely educational, but I'm not sure how. Physics? Creativity? Problem solving?

A trip to the dentist sparked a discussion about "Why is sugar bad for you?". This got me off on a tangent about evolution and we debated whether humans still evolve in the usual way, or are we exempt from that now? Philosophy? Biology?

I marveled at how my son voluntarily wrote some words on the white board to prove a point and thought nothing of it. This from a kid who six months ago would never pick up a writing implement unless directly ordered to do so. He is now doodling in his math book, which makes me simultaneously proud and wanting to pull my hair out.

My daughter asked me what the difference was between first, second, and third person writing. Sadly, I didn't remember the answer, so we looked it up and all learned a little something. I suppose that one's a little easier... Language Arts?

The live cam I posted of the baby bald eagles is another example. We watched them for quite a while today. What we learned was more experiential than factual. This is what the nest looks like. Is that a dead fish? How old do you think those babies are? There was no lesson per-se on eagle biology, but I think something was learned never-the-less.

My daughter suddenly decided she wanted in-line skates last week. She decided to use her saved allowance to buy herself some and badgered me into taking her to the store to get them. She's spent a great deal of time this week outside trying to learn how to use them, and she's finally having some success! P.E.? Money management? I'd call it "goal setting and learning to stick with something even if it's hard".

I have kept a log of our daily activities since we started this adventure, but have only recently tried to pare it down to something that is a little more of a summary. I shun all organizational packages and systems because I know if I don't come up with it myself I'll never use it. This year I'm trying something new. It's a simple spreadsheet. A have a clipboard and I mark off the different boxes as we go through the day, keeping things under the various learning "categories" (math, writing, reading, social studies, art, etc.). Weeks like this, however, make me realize how ridiculous it all is. If it weren't for the need to be accountable to the powers that be, I'm tempted to just chuck it all and go free-form. Life truly is learning, and it's all good stuff, even if it doesn't help you on the yearly test.

Bald Eagle Cam

I just read a story on some resident bald eagles in our local newspaper and went to check out the live camera they have set up on the nest. This is so very, very, awesome, I have to pass it on. Currently, you can view a bald eagle pair and their two baby chicks on Lake Jordan in real time.

For more information on these eagles, and bald eagles in general (in North Carolina and otherwise), you can go to:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Raving Sports Parents Rant

Bear with me for a minute. I need to rant. I have a boy... a boy who loves sports. As a result, I'm finding myself spending increasing amounts of time on the sidelines cheering him on. I don't mind this so much, and for the most part, I feel I control myself pretty well. I so frequently have the urge to yell either positive or negative things, but parents are supposed to be role models of good sportsmanship, and so I try to keep these urges under wraps. It is proper to cheer a great move or goal, but it is also best to let the coaches do the coaching. I'll even occasionally cheer a great move by the other team. The point is to have fun and watch our kids learn and grow, especially when they are young. The point is not to beat the other team to a bloody pulp.

The problem is that there are parents out there that do not follow these guidelines. There are parents that spend the entire game screaming at their children and generally making of themselves. This has got to be embarrassing and difficult for the kids getting screamed at, but it's also obnoxious to the other parents having to listen to it.

I've just spent the past hour being forced to listen to one such parent. This mom (yes, a mom) makes me want to strangle her. She is so loud, she drowns out the coaches doing their job on the other side of the field. Every time my kid plays the team that has got her kid on it, I have to brace myself, and maybe try to sit as far away from her on the stands as I can. I actually think her kid's team is a good team with a lot of  great kids on it, and it would otherwise be a pleasure to see each match. This woman ruins it for me (and I'm sure many others). The parents in this league frequently get general reminders about what good sportsmanship is and how to behave on the sidelines, but I have actually seen parents get up and start insulting each other during a game, and heard tales of physical altercations.

Can you believe that? When the parents are acting more childish than the kids, something is really wrong. We, as responsible parents, shouldn't have to be reminded to behave in a courteous manner. Next time you are at a soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, or (fill in the blank) match, remember your kids are hearing you and think about what kind of messages you really are giving them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why am I doing this?

Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago about homeschooling, and as I answered their questions, I realized that my answers have changed over the years. In the beginning, I think I was a bit defensive and either declined to say much or ended up giving a long diatribe about all the great things my kids get to do. These days, I find I try to get right to the point. No, my kids do not lack for social interaction. Yes, we get out of the house a lot, in fact, we are rarely home. Yes, we belong to a wonderful homeschool group that has been an endless supply of friends and opportunities. The hardest part of it all is that there is very little down time or personal time for me. The best part is that I get to really know my kids in this brief time when they are growing up and that I get to continually learn new things myself.

There are days when I severely lament the lack of time to do things for myself like exercise, get a haircut, or purchase some clothing that is not 5-10 years old, but I also feel like one of the luckiest women around. I am engaged in daily activities that matter to me, and I am being constantly challenged to do better, to learn more, to try something different, to grow as a person. Way back in college I realized that I could never hold a job in business. I could never live doing things that in the end make no difference, that didn't matter to the world at large. I went into the field of biology thinking maybe I could do some small thing to make this a better world. Maybe I could be a fighter on the "light side of the force". Things didn't exactly pan out the way I had planned. The first thing that happened was, I had kids. Next, I realized that my biggest, most important job was to try to turn these two wild animals into functioning, well adjusted human beings. When it became apparent school wasn't going to work out, I decided it again. Yes, I could go get a job and send them off to a private school I could live with, OR I could stay home and teach them myself. It seemed like a no-brainer. Why would I have kids and hand them over to near strangers to essentially raise? What could be more important than raising well-adjusted, happy, conscientious people for the next generation? What could be more important to me than my own kids? What a privilege to have a job so near and dear to my heart.

I hope there will come a time that they don't need me as much and I can dip my feet back in the world of conservation, ecology and animal husbandry. If I do, I may be a bit rusty on the technical things, but I sure will know a whole lot more about people, kids, history, science, art, and any number of odd things than I ever did before. Hopefully that time will come before I am too old or sick to do anything worthwhile. In the meantime, I'll do my best and hope that when they are grown they'll tell me I did a good job.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spelling Bee

My daughter has just completed her first Spelling Bee today. She competed against 15 other homeschooled kids ages 9-13. She didn't win, but I really think that that is beside the point. It was a wonderful experience, and it helped her to focus on words again for a bit. This year I pretty much gave up on Language Arts curricula for her. It would be an understatement to say that reading, writing and other language related skills were her strong point. Each year she has tested way beyond grade level on nationally standardized tests, and I yet I struggle to put any kind of structure to her reading and writing. She balks at my every effort, and part of me has decided that, in this at least, I should probably leave her alone. I'd like her to learn how to write a proper college essay, of course, but for now I have this feeling that too many parameters will stunt her creativity and growth.

This Spelling Bee has been marvelous because, not only was she able to do it with friends (one of whom won and will be going on to the regionals), but it gave us a goal, and we could focus on vocabulary and spelling together in small chunks. Since she isn't a very competitive personality, we were relaxed about it. The precise format required to take part was also good because I feel that kids sometimes benefit from outside structure and rules. I wouldn't argue for strict rules all day long, like many public and private schools, but in small doses it can be good practice for situations they will encounter later. Other pluses: It was necessary to remain quiet and courteous to the other contestants throughout the two hour period (this includes the audience and smaller siblings), it was necessary to get up in front of an audience and speak clearly, and there were no second chances. Unless you are part of the final rounds, if the wrong thing comes out of your mouth, you are done. Period. Life is like that. Sometimes you can't argue your way out of a situation.

If the organizers are willing to do this again next year, we will be sure to participate. The experience is valuable, and there is always room for improvement.

If your local homeschool group does a spelling bee and your child isn't too shy, it can be a great opportunity to improve spelling and vocabulary. I suspect there could be some stigma attached to such a brainy activity in public school, but the lovely thing about homeschooling is that for most homeschoolers brainy is good! Here are a couple of resources I've found online:

Scripps National Spelling Bee website in case you want information, or to start a competition in your area:

Spelling practice fun:

A great movie to watch: Akeelah and the Bee

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another take on History

Here's an amusing (and somewhat violent) take on the history of the Earth I just found:

A Brief History of Pretty Much Everything by James (Jamie) Francis Bell

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Off the Bookshelves: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

I have so much to write about and no time to do it right now! For the moment, I'd like to share with you a wonderful book my mother got me over the holidays. It's called "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" by Jennifer Reese. This book is SO up my alley. Here is a mom, just like me (and many of you I dare say), struggling with food choices. We want to save money, but we want to provide the healthiest options for our families. For me, I also struggle with questions of organic or not, local or not, do I make it or buy it ready made, and do I really have the time to do all of that? Well, Jennifer has done all of the experimenting for us and has come up with an opinion on each item about whether it's really worth your time or if you should just buy it. She is very funny as well, so even if you never try any of the recipes, it's a good read.

Here's an exempt from her Introduction:

   "Until recently, I never considered making my own peanut butter. Skippy was good enough for me."
   "Until recently, I never considered buying a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hadn't even known such a thing existed. I first read about Smucker's popular frozen peanut butter sandwich - the Uncrustable - in a New York Times Magazine article by (of course) Michael Pollan. He wrote, "People think nothing of buying frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their children's lunch boxes." I thought: They don't? What people? What frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? What's next, frozen buttered toast?
   I felt briefly smug in the certainty that I was not so lazy or compromised that I would ever buy mass-produced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then I thought, people probably once said that about peanut butter. And bread. And jelly..."

She goes on about this a bit, including a test and her daughter's reactions, but you get the idea. I'm pretty sure that acorn bread does not go under the heading of make-it, but I'm very interested in how to make all of the other things she's tried (cream cheese, bagels, etc.) that I haven't tried yet. If this is your kind of thing, check it out!

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'm Back!

I have been out of town the past week and have just gotten back. It was a week filled with tons of crazy family and a huge Miami wedding. It felt like a bit of a movie. I'm not sure what movie, but I'm sure it could have been a very entertaining one! Anyway, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things now and will post soon!