Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mess-free sand art!

I've been taking a little break from serious schooling, which is why I haven't been posting too much. Nor have I been posting any new lesson plans, which seems to be the most popular thing people are looking for! I promise I will get back into the swing of things soon. For now, it's just chugging away at finishing some stuff from last year, taking some trips, doing a few summer camps, and generally taking a breather.

I do want to share something that popped up in our house that seems to be fascinating my kids.

My daughter got a website link from a friend called It's basically a large sand art machine you can play with online. It's refreshingly simple and best of all, not messy at all! The gallery can be found here if you need some inspiration.

If you are looking for a different kind of art-oriented activity to try in between watching the Olympics and playing at the beach this summer, this could just be the ticket. I found some examples online, but my kids are definitely not this good. Watching the sand falling and changing the colors as it does is mesmerizing.

Incidentally, if you Google "sand art" and look up the pictures displayed, you will see an amazing array of art done with sand. There is beach sand art, Buddist sand painting, and the more garden variety that most Americans have seen in the bottles. Check it out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

10,000 page views!

Wow, I just topped out at 10,000 page views since I started this blog last year, and I just can't believe that I've had that many people come and view my little space! I just wanted to say "thank you" for reading. I hope I can continue to put up stuff that people want to read.

On that note, I thought I would re-post a talk by Sir Ken Robinson from 2006. It's been a while, but what he has to say is so entertaining and so right, I thought I would share it here again. I have to thank a fellow homeschooler to bringing it back to my consciousness. We all need a little reinforcement and reminding every now and then.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer... what is it to you?

What is summertime to you? Is it a chance to put away all the books and play for a few months? Is it just a continuation of normal operations with a little swimming thrown in?

Even though we homeschool, I find that we have to follow some traditional schedules because of all of the extracurricular activities we take part in. Most of our co-ops, classes and teams take a break over the summer, or at least slow down for a while. This forces us to take a break from the usual weekly treadmill, and I think that is a good thing. I'm still chugging away at some schoolwork. We never do finish up during the year, so it never really ends, but it's still a slower pace with a great deal of other (different) things thrown in, and we all need a change of pace once and a while.

For me, summertime has become three things. First, it's a time we can finally get the heck out of Dodge. I grew up moving around as a military child, and even though the net result was my wanting to put down roots somewhere, I do get bitten by the travel bug periodically and just want to drop everything and GO somewhere. It doesn't help that I read blogs like this one. SO... we do travel, as much as my husband's work and my sanity can handle, and I consider it education in that any sort of experience of the world is education.

In between, I also use the summer as a chance to put the kids in summer camps. So far we have just sampled the daily variety. We have yet to take the plunge into an overnight camp because my daughter has been reticent... and I also just found out what a good camp costs! No, there is no shortage of weekly camps around here, and I think it's a great way to delve a little deeper into things we have been studying throughout the year. As I write this, both of my kids are in a piano camp. They were a little dubious of this, but they are going to come out of it a little more informed and experienced and just a little bit better at music. I'm not sure I can say they are loving it now, but they are enjoying themselves, and I love the exposure they are getting to kids of other cultures who also play, to top notch teachers, and to an ensemble experience. They do art camps, sports camps, and anything else they are interested in. Last year they got to try out a little chorus experience, and though I'm sad we couldn't continue with that, they had a great time. My son, the sports nut, I am happy to say, has no problem trying out sports over the summer that he's never done to see if he likes them. So far, he's liked them all and I love that he is comfortable going into any new camp with or without people he knows and being able to have a good time.

I do have an ulterior motive with the camps, however. The truth is, it gives me some time away from the kids. For a few weeks over the summer, mom can get a break from the constant teaching and entertaining. I love my kids, but I do need a break every now and then, and camps are a great way for me to get that time without feeling guilty. The kids are positively occupied and I can turn my energies toward other things.

So, for the last two weeks I have been catching up on yard work, watching my husband put in some lovely raised garden beds (I am SO excited about finally having a REAL garden!), purging our basement of years worth of clutter and things I've been needing to get rid of (Can you say BOXES and BOXES of homeschool material?), and trying to plan for next year's learning.

Yes, I usually do have a plan. Usually I don't follow it... but I do make a plan. Any good teacher should have an idea of what they are doing, right? Life and my kids seem to always sabotage my plan, but I still make one. It takes time to do this though... uninterrupted time. Seems I have to send people away to get that.

Anyway, what is summer to you? Has it changed since homeschooling became part of your life? I'd love to hear what you think.

 (Recent white board art a la Jessi. I like the chaos it implies.:))

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Great Article on "Giftedness"

I do love to read other people's blogs when I have time. Every now and then I come across a great article, and yesterday I read one that I'd like to share. It's all about "giftedness", and I couldn't agree more with what she had to say about the label and the actual day-to-day reality. If my daughter was still in school, she would probably be given this label. It doesn't mean she is great at everything or even mentally above her peers. It just means that there are certain areas where she is significantly ahead and she is a creative self-learner with all the sort-of "textbook" traits... Over-sensitivity to clothing, that sort of thing. Anyway, here's the link. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Home: Monticello

This week, on the way back from a camping trip in Shenandoah National Park, we stopped at Monticello to visit the home of the one and only Thomas Jefferson. It was on my bucket list of places to take the kids, and having done it, I certainly recommend it. My one caveat is that maybe Spring or Fall might be nicer times to go than July or August.

After three days at a campground without showers (severe storms had knocked out the power), and in the middle of a heat wave, we mostly shunned the garden tour and the slaves quarters, but we did take in a short educational film at the Visitor's Center and the tour of his house. Both places are air conditioned.

Heat wave aside, it seemed especially appropriate to be paying our respects to the author of our Constitution the day before the July 4th holiday.

Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes. He was an amazing man. He was a farmer, planting several varieties of crops to see which worked the best in American soils (and thus applying the scientific method). He was the first to do paleontological work in the United States, digging up mastodon bones on his property. He was an architect, taking ideas from places he had been and incorporating them into his house, which he built upon constantly over a number of decades. He was an avid reader and philosopher, amassing a huge collection of books, most of which he couldn't afford, and then donating a large number of them to found the Library of Congress. As our third president, he conceived and sent off the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the new territory he had acquired from the French, the Louisiana Purchase. All this and more is explained when you visit, and it's a great history lesson.

The admission price covers the film, the tour of the house, the tours of the slave quarters and gardens, a self-guided tour at the basement level of the work areas, his grave site, and the other museums and galleries. A shuttle takes you from the Visitors Center to the house at the top of the hill. When you are done, be sure to visit the Discovery Room below the cafe in the Visitor's Center, which is a hands-on area for kids to explore.

They also have behind the scenes tours and special programs for groups if you so desire.

The following are several pictures I took while we were there followed by some Colonial and Revolutionary War era resources for learning with kids...

Our tour guide was marvelous. She was knowledgable, friendly, professional and helpful.

Jefferson had this connected to his weathervane on the roof, so you could find out the wind speed and direction just by looking up while on the porch.

He had double-pane windows at a time when that was unheard of.

There were activities outside for the kids. Writing with quill pens, making an observation booklet, and trying out a primitive camera.

There are some lovely old trees on the grounds around the house.

The basement is a self-guided tour area where the slaves, freed blacks, and other workers ran things. The kitchen, storerooms, stables, and other rooms can be accessed from here. There were demonstrations of keys, the dumbwaiter for wine that Jefferson had put in, and other things.

In the kids Discovery Center, the kids were able to touch and try things they had seen in the house that were kind of neat and interesting.

There was a copy of the bed that Jefferson used. It's nestled in an alcove between two rooms. Apparently, recessed beds were common in France at the time. Jefferson's bed was open on both sides.

He had a clock in his entry hall that ran using the weight of several cannonballs. It had to be rewound each week and they would drop slowly as the week went on. He marked the wall where they would be each day, so that you could look at the wall and see what day and time it was on the wall. The only problem is he ran out of wall before he ran out of week, so he cut a hole in the floor so that he could continue it into the basement! This picture is of the recreation in the kids room. No photos were allowed inside the house, unfortunately.

He was able to make copies of his work with this device. It's harder to use than it looks.

Monticello is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, about three hours north of Durham. Here's the address. It's beautiful country close to the mountains.

931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Here are some other resources if you'd like to do a little lesson on Thomas Jefferson and the founding of our country, or colonial and revolutionary times. I realize this would have been much more useful before the July 4th holiday, but maybe it'll serve as a resource for next year.

Shh! We're Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz (ages 7 and up)
Will you sign here, John Hancock? by Jean Fitz (ages 7 and up)
And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz (ages 7 and up)
Thomas Jefferson's Feast by Frank Murphy (Random House Step 4 Reader) (ages 7 and up)
George Washington and the General's Dog by Frank Murphy (Random House Step 3 Reader) (ages 6 and up)
Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares: A Math Reader by Frank Murphy (Randon House Step 4 Reader) (ages 5 and up)
George Washington by Ingri & Edgar Parin D'Aulaire (young readers)
Who Was George Washington? by Roberta Edwards (ages 8 and up)
The Presidents of the United States of America by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey
If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern (ages 7 and up)
If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution by Elizabeth Levy (ages 7 and up)
A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution by Betsy Maestro (ages 7 and up)
Don't Know Much About American History by Kenneth C. Davis (ages 8 and up)
The American Story: 100 True Tales From American History by Jennifer Armstrong (ages 6 and up)
Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women by Cheryl Harness (ages 8 and up)
American Made: The Colonial Child of 1740 by Marcia Fann and Betsy Farr (coloring book with information, activities and recipes)
Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog's Tale by Laurie Myers (ages 8 and up)

Thomas Jefferson. A film by Ken Burns 1997.
John Adams. 2008 (Probably only for older teens and adults as there are some really heavy scenes, but marvelously educational)

printable materials (for a price) (there are other things here at Currclick but I have not actually tried any of them): Montecello: Historic Monuments Series on Currclick
The Monticello Classroom. by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (part of the Website for Monticello itself). There are lesson plans and such here. I was able to view a few without registering.