Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fun with Worksheets

Last year one of the products I had the privilege of reviewing, was the KBTeacher site (you can see my review here).  They generously gave us a full YEAR of access to their premium site. As we're falling into our fall routine, I wanted to share a few of the things I've found recently to use with my children.

As a part of another review I'm currently working on, I discovered that Little Bit LOVES to glue! One of KB Teacher's current categories is their fall theme. I found a fun activity to glue leaves (with letters on them, but that aspect is still abit beyond Little Bit) to a tree. I'm thinking she'll have great fun with that!

I also took time to check out their craft category. I found a fun winter craft that I've printed off so I don't forget it. It uses chalk and paint on black paper to create a nighttime snow scene, sounds like a fun change from our normal craft projects.

Finally, just in time for our current insect studies, I found directions for making wire bugs, fun stuff!!

Disclaimer: I wrote this post as part of a contest to win a Starbucks gift card. The requirement was simply to write a blog post about the KBTeacher site. All opinions are my own!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up - August 28

What a week! The landlord decided our house needed to be painted, so we've had days when we couldn't even get in and out of our house because they were spraying paint or pressure washing. And we never knew from day to day WHAT they'd be doing, so it's been rather . . . chaotic. Here are a few highlights of what we've done this week.

For our art study this week we continued to learn about Picasso. Sassy and MiniMe each chose a painting to copy. So of course, Little Bit had to paint too (I forgot to take a picture of Sassy painting, they had to take turns since they each needed the book). I should have taken pictures of their "paintings", they were great!

History continues to study various Native American tribes, this week with the Indians of the Northwest. We had fun making paper models of the cedar houses the Indians in that area built, but will have to finish up with these Indians this coming week, since we weren't home some days.

While not included in the curriculum we're using, since so many of the Native American tribes used lunar calendars, we decided to detour abit and talk about the phases of the moon. Ok, so really, I just wanted an excuse to do this fun illustration, where we used oreos to represent the various phases of the moon. I started out trying to cut the top cookie (after removing it) to the right size and the put it back, but that was challenging, so after the first few I gave up on that and just scraped away the frosting for the part that needed to be black. Doesn't look quite as good, but was much easier. Needless to say, once we were done with our lesson, we ate it :)

One of the days when we couldn't be home, was PERFECT weather, so we spent all morning at the playground. In addition to plenty of playing on their own, we did our Spanish vocab while they were on the swings, great for my kinesthetic learners! And, since the day before, they'd each gotten a new watch that includes a stopwatch, they took turns timing each other on obstacle courses that I made up. So we had great fun with that.

Another side-effect of the painting, much to Little Bit's dismay, we had to take down her toddler swing (since it hangs on the porch) AND their normal outdoor play area is the patio that's attached to the porch, so was too close to the painters. So one of the days we did stay home, I suggested that, while I hung laundry, the big girls should take Little Bit up by their swing (in a tree up the hill from our house) to play, since it was shady and away from the painters. So, they proceeded to teach her to swing on a "big swing". She still opted for the toddler swings at the park, I suspect the flexible seat of the big kid swings there was abit more . . . daunting . . .than the solid wood of the swing here at home, but she did fine on the big kid swing here at home. She was funny, she kept saying "me no fall in the muuuud!" drawing out the word mud in the funniest way (while not muddy under the swing (well, today, after Irene's visit last night, I'm sure it is, but it wasn't that day), since it's shady and the grass has been rubbed away, it does tend to be a hardpacked dirt that looks kind of like mud. She also decided to ride on the tire swing with her sisters at the playground. It's the typical playground type, that's attached to a spinning thing at the top, and then the tire lays flat so people can sit around it, so each of the 3 girls sat on one "section" and held onto the chains closest to her while I spun them. She loved it!

Friday Daddy took all 3 girls to Grandmom's house for the day, which is always a treat. Little Bit was funny when they got home, she wanted to nurse right away, of course, but kept stopping to tell me things . . . me go potty at restaurant (they stopped at Wendy's so she could go to the bathroom on the way home), and other momentous happenings in the life of a 2 year old LOL.

Sabbath after church, we stayed for a potluck meal at the church, and enjoyed visiting with friends during that. The girls had great fun playing a "hide the magnet" game that Miss P came up with for all the children to play :)

And then we came home and battened down the hatches for Hurricane Irene's arrival. All we got was wind and rain, though our power was out for a few hours during the night. Nothing like having the power out to realize how truly DARK it is at night LOL (we typically leave a low light on in the bathroom, and another one over the kitchen sink).

Also, a couple pictures I forgot to include last week, from our fun playdough playdate :)

Miss P helping Little Bit, and her friend, J use the playdough "spaghetti factory"
The big girls had fun with the playdough too

The "Spaghetti dinner" MiniMe made (in case you can't identify it all, there's the fork, laying on the napkin. Spaghetti with red sauce and 3 (vegetarian) meatballs on a blue plate. Then the knife and spoon. And also a glass (goblet) with . . . cherry juice, I think she said. In it. The rest of the stuff in the picture was just other stuff that happened to be sitting nearby. So that was our playdough fun from the week before.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up - August 21

We had a quieter week this week, aaaahhhhhh (I had fun last week, but I'm still a homebody at heart LOL).

We've  been having fun with our history, still learning about various Native American tribes. This week we were learning about the Nez Perce, otherwise known as "Kaya's tribe" for fans of the American Girl Kaya books. Since I knew it was coming up, and figured the girls would enjoy reading the whole series, I brought it along on our Pittsburgh trip a few weeks ago, and they've been reading in their free time since then as well, so they finished the series up this week. Then we got to read "Welcome to Kaya's World" for history this week, which was an interesting "wrap-up" after reading the series.

We're also enjoying learning about Picasso for art.

I've been going through Before Five in a Row (watch for a review next month) with Little Bit and she is LOVING her "school". One of the activities I did with her this week was gluing, and she REALLY liked that. The next day she asked "me glue Jesse's food again?" so, of course, we had to do it again LOL.

MiniMe and I had our monthly "date" this week. It's always fun to get to talk one-on-one with one of my girls, I love hearing the things that they come up with. And bonus, she was thrilled to go to Goodwill with me after we ate! We had fun shopping together without having to keep track of Little Bit, yay! When we got home, Little Bit said "My friends are here now! Yay!!!" So glad to know that she considers MiniMe and me to be her friends LOL.

One day this week the girls decided they wanted a "covered wagon" so they put the dining room chairs together and draped a blanket over them. Little Bit was not to be left out, she jumped right into the game with them. Sassy was "Pa", MiniMe was "Ma", and Little Bit and some dolls were the children. She did quite well at following the game, considering she has never seen anything resembling a covered wagon LOL.  At one point Sassy was "making her bed" and used one of Little Bit's fleecy blankets and Little Bit came running over to me crying that "Mommy, Pa too my blanket!" So she was very much "in character" LOL.

As you can tell, Little Bit is an absolute riot these days!! Last night when I was reading her Sabbath school lesson, it was talking about the widow's mite and said that when we give our offering at church we are giving our money to Jesus and she said "my offering is giving money to Jesus? Dat make me SO happy!"  awwwwww!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up - August 14 (a couple days late)

Not sure why I'm so late with this wrap-up, just other (boring, day-to-day) stuff kept bumping it down the to do list I guess. You've heard most of the news from last week anyway. . . in our field trip posts.

Other than all the fun field trips . . . not a whole lot happened.

I did remember to snap a picture of Little Bit sleeping in the "girls' room" one of the days that we were home for naptime. Her bed is a down comforter folded to fit the space between MiniMe's bed and the bookcase. Add her "blues clues pillow" and her favorite striped blanket, and she's set. She now naps in their room whenever we're home for nap. The night time transition is going to be more challenging since it will mean changing her bedtime too. Currently she stays up until 10:30 or so, but . . . that means I still get a decent length nap out of her during the day and time to get a couple things done before she wakes up most mornings, so for now, I'd rather have her up later at night than sacrifice sleep somewhere else. . .

We didn't do much school last week, other than field trips. But we did continue moving forward with spanish. Little Bit has started answering some of the flash cards, the girls have declared it "not fair" that she gets to learn Spanish "without trying" LOL.

We also did history on Friday. Which put us back "on track" to match up with the weeks in the lesson plan. Not a huge deal, but my personal sense of "order" likes to have one topic per week instead of splitting them mid-week since that's the way the curriculum is set up.

Friday evening Sassy and MiniMe were complaining that they didn't have anything to do during church, and I commented on how nice it had been of Sassy, the week before, to help one of the younger children with a puzzle (Little Bit has a book of 6 piece Bible puzzles that I sometimes bring for her, a visiting little girl asked to play with it, but was having a hard time with the puzzles, so Sassy did a very nice job of helping her without taking over), and that gave them the idea to bring their own bag of activities and help keep the younger children quietly busy so the parents could listen better. It was a mixed success . . . it was a challenging group of children this week, so nothing short of a miracle (or duct tape LOL) would have kept that particular mix quiet enough for the adults to really hear, but I think the children enjoyed it, and Sassy and MiniMe certainly were NOT bored in church LOL.

And that was our week.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yay! The Home Keeper's Journal is back this week!

In my kitchen this week ……….I've been gone most of the week with our field trips (see the last 2 posts), but on Sunday I finally tackled the project I've been thinking about for awhile now. I cleared off the "fireplace counter" that is SUCH a hot spot for me, mainly because it's not a very usable counter for me, and moved all my small appliances (and the not-so-small dehydrator) over there. It's what I've felt would work best there ever since we moved here, BUT there's no electricity on that wall. I gave up on trying to figure out a "pretty" solution to that and just ran a heavy extension cord from the closest outlet, across a small walkway (taped down to the floor so we don't trip over it) and onto that counter, then plugged a power strip into that so everything can be plugged in. I've warned the girls (and hubby) to NOT try to run them all at once since this puts them all on one breaker, but I think we'll be ok with that, and it makes it SOO much easier to access them then having them all tucked away in cupboards and corners AND having to put whatever appliance I need to use on the only other counter space in the kitchen. So I'm happy with it.  The other use of this counter (when/if I can keep it cleared off) is that the lower height works for the girls to stand at, and I think there's enough space in front of the appliances for it to still work for that.  Here's the picture (our Berkey water filter sits there as well):

Around the house …….our project this week was getting the girls' loft play area. It was a project, but so nice to get it done. We've also officially set up a "bed" on the floor in the girls' room for Little Bit. So far she only sleeps in there for naps, but it's a start.
The family ….. Hubby has been travelling this week. He's been home at night, but been busy all week long. The girls and I were busy with our field trips, and playing with their friend, L, when they were home.  Little Bit and I enjoyed some of the activities from Before Five in a Row (review coming next month) while the big girls were busy playing.
New projects …… more baking and making things from scratch, hopefully, now that the appliances are more accessible. Continuing to declutter and organize things around here, though I guess that's not a "new" project, I'm always hoping to work on that . . . 
Ideas …… I'm really hoping to do regular field trips this year. There are so many fun-sounding things to do in this area, I want to try to get into a routine of doing a field trip once a week or once every other week or whatever.
Light Bulb Moments …… I must have dim lightbulbs, I'm drawing a blank on this LOL.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our Week of Field Trips - The Rest of the Week

I already told you about Valley Forge on Monday. On Tuesday we didn't go anywhere, just let the girls all play together for the day.

Wednesday we visited "America's Oldest Pretzel Bakery", Sturgis Pretzels. It was such a fun tour!! They started it by lining us all up at the rolling table and giving us each a piece of dough and showing us how to form a pretzel, while telling the story of why pretzels are shaped the way they are.

Then they took us on the rest of the tour, telling us how there came to be a pretzel bakery, and also showing us how the Sturgis family made pretzels there in the 1800s. They also briefly told us how pretzels are made today. It was a fun, informative little tour.

After that we headed over to Wilbur Chocolates, to see that museum/tour, but it was more just a few things sitting around the store. We indulged in buying ourselves some chocolate and headed out.

Today we went to Hopewell Furnace. What an awesome national park! The rangers and volunteers renewed my faith in the Junior Ranger program LOL. They didn't have the fancy, professionally printed, book that Valley Forge has, but as soon as we walked in a ranger called the girls over to a counter low enough for them to see, and showed them the photocopied page, talked them through how it worked, and everything. Not only did they give one to each of the big girls, but he gave me one for Little Bit too, and said "you can help her, but she'll have fun with it". She didn't really get the "scavenger hunt" concept of it, but she had SOO much fun having a "map" like the big girls. Every time they stopped to mark something off, she'd ask for her "map" and pencil and would draw little scribbles somewhere on her page, it was great!  And throughout the park, the rangers and volunteers offered to help with the junior ranger page, asked if they were having trouble finding anything, etc.  It's amazing what a difference caring people can make!

We had a blast!! The visitor center had a fun "touch table" with all kinds of things to touch and figure out. They also had an interesting short video about the history of Hopewell Furnace.  The water wheel is amazing! Then we headed over to the barn where we saw the chickens and sheep and then got to visit with the horse. He's the perfect personality for being at a place like that, calm, but friendly. The girls had fun feeding him grass and asking the ranger questions about him.

The house was abit of a disappointment, you can only see a couple rooms, nothing upstairs, and not even all of the main floor, but oh well.  Next we stopped by the store (I need to go back sometime when I have money to spend LOL, such cool handmade things, many of them made by the volunteers right there at Hopewell Furnace!) the lady who was tending the store was doing cross stitch while she waited, so MiniMe peppered her with questions. Just recently, MiniMe had noticed embroidery hoops at the craft store and asked me about them, and I'd told her that some people use them to do cross-stitch and similar but I personally don't like using them, and couldn't really tell her why they used them. So she was quick to ask the lady at the store why she was using one, and then just kind of branched out from there with her questions. Then the lady took them into the store and had a selection of old fashioned toys to play with (and then, of course, the same types of toys were for sale). The girls had fun with that, and then she called over another volunteer (her son, I think) and he was better able to demonstrate some of the toys. The girls had alot of fun with that.

Next we headed to the cast house to learn about how they actually cast the iron.

First they showed us how they would make the sand molds to cast the pieces in. They let all the children help pound the sand down. Little Bit was nursing, so I couldn't get great pictures, and they were pounding so fast that you can't even see the hammer things, but it was pretty fun.

After the mold was done, they told us about how the furnace worked, and such. Pretty amazing stuff.

He also mentioned that, while the blacksmiths usually are only there on weekends, there was one in the blacksmith shop today, he didn't say why. So, when we left the cast house we went over to the blacksmith shop. The blacksmith was GREAT! Sassy and MiniMe had a million and one questions, and he patiently answered ALL of them. He'd answer a question and then ask if they (or anyone else, but they were pretty much the only ones asking questions) had any more questions. Until they finally ran out of questions. It was great! Judy joked that they should hire Sassy & MiniMe to just stand there, and other places, and ask questions, since it provided information for all of us, in a more interesting format than if the blacksmith had just "lectured" about what he does LOL.

Our final stop was the charcoal makers. Those volunteers were less . . . talkative, so it wasn't as interesting a stop, but such is life.

We headed back to the visitor center to get the girls' Junior Ranger badges and then enjoyed a picnic in the nice picnic area there.

On the way back, we decided to drive through French Creek State Park since it's right there. As I expected, Little Bit fell asleep pretty much right away, so when we came to a play ground in the state park, we stopped and the big girls played on the playground while Judy & I visited and Little Bit slept (the weather was GORGEOUS today, so it worked well). Once Little Bit woke up we let her play for a little while too, then headed home.

And that ends our week of field trips. I certainly wouldn't want to do that much "running" every week, but it was alot of fun, the girls learned a ton, and a good time was had by all!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Week of Fieldtrips . . . Valley Forge

This week our neighbor, Judy, is watching a friend's daughter, L. Since L and my girls are friends, Judy suggested that we plan fun things to do together this week, and so, our week of Field Trips was born . . .

We started the week, by going to Valley Forge National Park Monday.

We spent some time at the museum, then worked on the Junior Ranger books. While we were still working on them, they announced a video starting in a few minutes and the girls wanted to go to that, so we did that.

When we left the "theater", an employee stopped us and asked if we wanted to hear a story (silly question for a group of children LOL). So he motioned us over to a bench with some other people and proceeded to tell us a story about a spy during the war. Even got the girls involved in the story, so it was fun.

After the story, we got in the car and began our driving tour. Last time we were there, with my parents, we'd gotten a CD that is a driving tour of the park. It is AWESOME!! I enjoyed it just as much this time as I did the first time (except this time I was driving so had to pay attention to where I was supposed to go. Last time Dad was driving LOL). It was a HOT day!! (but not rainy like predicted, though there were points when I would have happily accepted rain to cool us down) But we had a good time.

The cabin we could go in to see what it was like was rather claustrophobic. The top bunk was one thing, but the middle and bottom bunks were SOO close together. See Little Bit sitting on the middle bunk in the picture? Sassy laid on the bottom bunk at one point for a picture but I couldn't get everyone to actually STAY STILL enough to get that one without it being blurry. It was dark in the cabin which made it harder too since my phone doesn't have a flash, but it showed how tight they were.

The other "tight quarters" that struck us was when we went through the house that George Washington actually stayed in while at Valley Forge. It's a nice enough house, until you consider there were TWENTY FIVE people staying in that house. Then the walls just REALLY close in LOL. But still, always one of my favorite things, to see how people lived back then. The guy who was in the summer kitchen to tell us about it, said that some HUGE percentage (40% sticks in my mind, but I could be remembering wrong) of women's deaths in that time period were because of burns from fires, mainly cooking fires. He said sparks would catch their skirts on fire and such, and then they didn't have the germ theory and such enough to keep the burns clean so they became infected.

And one final picture. L decided to teach Little Bit to salute LOL. Sassy was shocked that Little Bit actually did what L said, hee hee.

After we finished our fun at Valley Forge, and stopped back by the Visitor Center to turn in the girls' Junior Ranger books and get their badges, we had a yummy lunch at Baja Fresh before heading home. A fun day all around. And we've been having more fun the rest of the week, I'll get it all blogged eventually, but all this fun doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging LOL.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Not Back-to-School Blog Hop 2011 - School Room Week

Not Back to School Blog Hop

This week is the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop's "School Room" week at Heart of the Matter. We don't have " schoolroom" per se. We do school here, there and everywhere. So I thought I'd share some examples.

The basic "storage" of our stuff is pretty much the same as last year (but we're not using felts for anything right now so the girls don't get to tear the sofa apart each day). I have added a couple random baskets tucked into corners of the dining room and living room. One has the books we're currently using for history. Another has up-coming books for history (most are from the library but I wanted to keep the non-library books in one place so I can find them when we need them). Another has our Bible resources. We're reading the Bible and notebooking it this year, so I have a basket with a couple different illustrated Bible dictionaries and some other "reference" books. The girls often go to that basket and use the books to see how to draw things we've read about or to get more information about things.  The "people" part of our school room is abit more varied . . .

Lately alot of our school has been in the family room, where we can sit on the sofa . . . 

. . . or on the floor

For messier projects we move to the table.

We end up doing alot of "school" in the car too. Either on our way to fun field trips, or just using our time when running errands. The girls often bring reading, coloring, etc. to do in the car, and we also often listen to science and history stories on CD or mp3 while we drive. Especially if Little Bit is asleep. When she's awake she likes music right now, so we often listen to memory verse songs like Hide Them in Your Heart by Steve Green, and the ABC Bible Memory Verse Songs which helps us all to learn Bible verses without even trying.

This is my "car basket". Right now it has some cloth grocery bags in it hiding everything else, and a bag of library books behind it, but it carries all kinds of things. I put it on the passenger seat beside me and can put anything that needs to go back in the house into it. Then when we get home I can put those things away and then it sits on a bench in the entryway & anything that I need to remember to bring with me to the car (like those empty cloth grocery bags), I can toss in the basket and just grab that basket and go when it's time to go. So, while not just for "school" it's very useful for all the library books and any CDs I want us to listen to in the car or whatever.

And finally, we have lots of other "school rooms".  We have nature centers, and zoos, and museums and the woods behind our house and the pond and the creek and the yard and the garden . . . we truly do feel that the world is our classroom, and we love it! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up - August 7

You've already heard about our cat explosion. Which was probably the most exciting thing (at least for the girls) this week, but here are a few more happenings from this week (and last weekend).

When we left Pittsburgh last Friday, we went to my parents' house for Grandpa's memorial service (Sabbath afternoon). It was a nice weekend of seeing family, and some old friends, and remembering Grandpa. I think Grandma really enjoyed hearing all the nice things people had to say about Grandpa at the memorial service.

I wasn't sure how the big girls would do at the memorial service. They've never been to a "funeral" of any sort, and are sometimes much to vocal (or non-verberally expressive, or both) about things being "boring" and such, and I was pretty sure Little Bit wouldn't be real into sitting quietly, so I opted to just go straight to the mothers' room. I'd planned to take all 3 girls with me and that way the big girls could help keep Little Bit entertained or quietly read or play on their ipods if they were bored. But they asked to sit with Mama & Papa instead, so they did, and Rodney & I took Little Bit to the mother's room.  Turns out the girls loved all the stories about Grandpa. In addition to a life sketch, which is, of course, a story, the pastor's . . . hmmm, is it called a sermon? I don't remember, anyway, the sermon-like part, whatever it's called, was also mostly stories of the pastor's memories of Grandpa and such. And then they opened it up to let anyone share memories, which, again, ended up being mostly fun stories people had about Grandpa.So it all worked out fine. Sunday morning we spent some more time visiting with family and then headed home.

This week we've been getting back to school after our week of field trips. And catching up on fun stuff like laundry and cleaning and such.

It's been hot, but not so hot as to be unbearable, so the girls have spent quite abit of time outside trying to make friends with the cats.

They're enjoying the history, Little Bit loves that I read her stories now for "her school". She also thought it was pretty cool when I pulled out the watercolors for the big girls to do one of their crafts for history, and gave her a paint brush and paper too. I think she ended up soaking the paper till it fell apart, but she loved it.

We were excited to spend an afternoon with our "adopted grandma" and neighbor, Miss Judy. She'd been gone and then we'd been gone so it had been 2 or 3 weeks since we saw her. Was soo nice to see her again and get caught up. We also did some planning with her. She'll be watching the girls' friend, L, next week so we're planning all kinds of fun field trips with Miss Judy and L next week, should be a busy week.

I also introduced the art appreciation course I found for the girls. Wasn't sure what they'd think of it, they've never shown an interest in art appreciation per se, though I figured I could "sell" it by pointing out that some of the lessons include actually DOING art stuff, but didn't even have to. They enjoyed learning about Picasso and seeing some of his paintings and talking about them. I think Picasso was a good first painter for them, his stuff is SOO varied, that caught their attention :)

And I guess that was about it. It was a busy week, but mostly boring things like laundry and unpacking. We had fun with school but nothing of any great note.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Mini Milestone

Gus Nightlight in Pink / BlueNothing huge, but thought I'd document it . . . 

The background: Since Little Bit was old enough to take regular naps (as opposed to the newborn, nurse, sleep, change diaper, repeat thing), she's either slept in the car (I'm a huge fan of having my babies at least know how to nap in the car, it makes traveling so much easier when you can plan it so that a good part of it is while baby/toddler sleeps!), nursed to sleep & then slept/nurped on my lap, or I wait to take my shower until naptime and put her in the takealong swing in the bathroom while I shower. The sound lulls her to sleep & then I leave her in the swing with the fan going (to keep at least some white noise).

At campmeeting this summer I would nurse her to sleep on the bed, then could get up and read or do other quiet things in the motorhome while she slept on the bed. I've done that a few times at my parents' house too, and once, soon after campmeeting, here at home, she asked to take her nap on the bed and I laid down with her and nursed her to sleep, then got up. It worked great, but honestly, given the choice between laying down with her to nurse, or getting my shower done w/o worrying about where she is or what she's doing, I'm pretty happy with the swing/shower method. She knows the routine, and when she wakes up she just yells "Mommy, come get me" or "Mommy, me awake!"

Nighttime, she's still sleeping in our bed (which is a queen+twin, so plenty of room), I still usually nurse her to sleep downstairs then carry her up and go ahead & go to bed when she does (probably wouldn't have to, but she's a night owl, so I'm usually ready).  I'm not desperate to get her out of our bed, or not nurse her to sleep, but have been thinking toward that eventuality. The big girls love the idea of having her sleep with them, and I certainly wouldn't complain if I could put her to bed with them and have a couple hours in the evening with all 3 children asleep. . . so, when I saw a good deal on for a little turtle that is a nightlight the child can turn on/off itself, carry around, etc. I decided to get it. Wasn't necessarily going to give it to her right away, but she saw me open teh box and she LOVED her turtle immediately. I told her that this turtle is for her to sleep with in "Sissies' room" and she was fine with that in theory, carried her turtle around all day, told Miss Judy it was for sleeping in Sissies' room, but bedtime came, and she wanted nothing with sleeping in their room, which is fine, and she was fine with not sleeping with the turtle since she wasn't in their room.  We did set up her "bed" in their room so she could see where she would sleep.  They sleep on the floor under their loft. Sassy sleeps on a regular mattress on the floor, but MiniMe has a King sized "feather bed" designed to go on top of a mattress, it's folded in half and she loves her "cloud". Since it's white, and I had an extra white down comforter, I folded it to fit in the space next to MiniMi's bed, and put Little Bit's pillow and favorite blanket there and that's her bed. So the last couple nights I've suggested it, she'll often lay down on her bed with her turtle while I tuck the big girls in, but then, even if I lay down with her, she won't stay laying down there and go to sleep. No biggie, she's getting used to teh idea, she'll do it when she's ready . . .

So, today at naptime I told her it was time to go upstairs for her nap, to find whatever baby/stuffed animal she wanted to "rock to sleep" (in the swing that no longer swings, but she likes the idea of rocking baby to sleep instead of it being about HER going to sleep). She picked up her turtle and I reminded her that her turtle "only sleeps in Sissies' room". She said "me sleep in Sissies' room" I fully expected her to change her mind when we got upstairs, but she didn't. She went potty, then went in and laid down on her "bed", I got her pillow and blanket and got her all settled in with her turtle. Turned on an Uncle Rick CD and told her she needed to stay laying down and go to sleep. Then I went and took my shower, fully expecting her to come in the bathroom after about 30 seconds and want to get in her swing. But she didn't . . .

I took a short shower, then left the water running when I got out (in case she was almost asleep and turning the water off woke her back up), peaked around into the girls' room and she was laying on her bed, but still awake. Gave her a few more minutes, peaked again, and she was sitting up, so I told her to lay down, which she did, but was still fiddling with things, not going to sleep. So I went in and laid down beside her and every time she opened her eyes I'd quietly say "close your eyes and go to sleep", in all of maybe 3 minutes, she was out. And she slept there for a normal length nap (didn't pay attention to times but it was all in the normal range)!!! We were all very "excited" that she'd slept in Sissies' room like a big girl! We shall see if it continues . . . but it's another step toward growing up :)

Cat Explosion!

Background:  Last spring, my brother's girlfriend's cat had kittens and we took 2 of them (my brother assured me they were litter trained, apparently they were good at doing what mama cat did, but not so good without mama cat around to keep them in line).  Socks & Moccasin came to live at our house but when they refused to figure out the litter box thing, they became outdoor cats last fall, and loved it. They're both great hunters and living where we do, there's plenty to hunt. And since one of my reasons for agreeing to cats was to keep the mice away, having good hunters living on our porch has been effective. As they got bigger they began to roam, and last spring Socks was gone for a few weeks, then  reappeared, loving as ever. We decided we'd better get them neutered to keep them closer to home, and away from the feral females that live on the property. Took them for their check-up, made the appointment, and literally the day that we were taking them in (the evening before surgery), Socks took off again & we haven't seen him since (but several neighbors have, so he's around, just not at our house anymore. Based on where neighbors have seen him, I'm wondering if the rehab hospital that's up the hill from us, has "adopted" him, which he would love, and he'd be good for the patients because he's a cuddler (HE probably would have preferred to stay an indoor cat, or at least come and go, but HE was the one who flat out refused to use the litter box, sigh . . . ). So, we were essentially down to one cat.

There's a feral cat that the girls named Sneakers who lived in the chicken coop near our house last winter and has been eating out cat food sever since. This spring we discovered she'd had kittens when they were only a couple days old, but us finding them apparently spooked her and she abandoned them (bit it told us she was a female LOL). Also last winter, this spring, there was a yellow feral cat, that the girls named sandals, but this spring I saw it dead along the side of the road (didn't tell the girls, since it was during one of Socks' absences and I figured realizing that cats can get hit by cars wouldn't sit well with Sassy (Socks was Sassy's cat, Moc is MiniMe's). Hubby was going to go move it into the bushes, but someone else did.

A couple neighbors, and hubby, had mentioned recently seeing a small yellow cat/yellow kitten, though I haven't seen it, and I don't think the girls have. Guessing it's another feral cat that just stays out of sight more than Sneakers does and Sandals did.

So that's where things stood when we went to Pittsburgh. A neighbor agreed to come feed Moc and whatever strays chose to eat our food, she saw, and cuddled, Socks while we were gone (see, he just stays out of OUR sight, I think Moc told him what happened to him, and Socks wants nothing to do with that LOL).  And then the day we were coming home (last Sunday), she called and said that when she was getting the food, a black cat suddenly jumped out of a cardboard box on our porch and scared her half to death. Stayed out of her reach but didn't completely run off.

So we came home, as we drove in we saw a black cat take off toward the barn, so figured that was the cat Denise saw. Later that evening MiniMe went out and came running back in, telling us that she'd seen the black cat going toward the barn again but this time it had 2 black kittens with it (she described them as being about the size Socks & Moc were when we got them, so around 8 weeks, give or take).  Still later that evening, she went out again and said she thought Socks was under our car. We'd parked the car on the grass to unload it, so it was closer to the house. I came out and looked, and we determined that it wasn't Socks, it was a black & white kitten.

The next day we got a better look and realized the black & white "kitten" is much bigger than the 2 black kittens . . . as the week has progressed, we've determined that the "new" cats include:

A black male (this is the one that jumped out of the box and startled Denise)
A smaller black female, mama to the 2 little kittens
a young black & white cat (we think female, based on glimpses of it's butt, but perhaps it's just too young to be "noticably male"?)
a young (or at least smaller) cat that is striped like Moc (male), perhaps a sibling to the black & white one?
The 2 little black kittens

I simply canNOT fathom that these cats have been living on the property and suddenly decided to come to our house after never seeing them before. I'm convinced someone must have dumped them.
They're skittish but not truly wild.  The black male, "Moccasin Jrc", and the black and white young one all let us pet them while they eat. "Moccasin Jr" will even seek out attention, rubbing against us, or at one point, Sassy had been sitting next to him, petting him while he ate and then I called her to come eat, and he jumped off the wall and was meowing, the only possible reason we could think of was that he wanted her to come back and pet him/keep him company LOL.

This morning, we were finally able to hold one of the little kittens. It came and was eating cat food with the big cats, and I was able to pet it and then a little bit later, pick it up and cuddle it. It was NOT relaxed, but it didn't fight me. Later MiniMe was able to pick it up (she tried yesterday but it scratched her) and she and Sassy took turns holding it for quite awhile. I even let them take my phone outside and listen to their morning Bible reading on the porch so they could keep holding the kitten.

So . . . now what to do. I need to call the Humane Society and see what their policy is on spaying & neutering feral cats. I don't mind having several cats around, but I don't want there to keep being more & more . . . at least we shouldn't have a problem with mice LOL.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Lifestyle of Learning

This is the time of year when everyone's talking about "back to school". Even though every homeschool family is different, this is the time of year when homeschool forums and lists tend to ask the question "when does your school year start?". One of the groups I'm on asked this, and when I replied that we school year round, I mentioned that we have a "lifestyle of learning". I honestly don't know where I learned that terminology, or if I made it up, but it fits our family beautifully. Someone asked what I meant by that, and how we accomplish that, and I answered her, but off-list (because it was too long an answer for the format of that list). And then someone else asked if I'd write it up as a blog post so she could see it too, and so . . . here I am . . . I didn't really want to clean the kitchen this afternoon anyway LOL . . .

So, what is a lifestyle of learning? How does it look in our family? And how did we get here?

(I'd suggest getting yourself a nice big glass of sweet tea (or your beverage of choice) and settling in, because I can pretty much guarantee this is going to be a book . . . you know me!)

When we first made the tentative decision to homeschool, back when Sassy & MiniMe were about the age that Little Bit is now, I honestly didn't realize that homeschool could be anything other than "school at home".  I looked into the future and saw us getting cute little desks for the girls, setting up the spare room like a "school room", or us all gathered around the dining room table doing workbooks and reading textbooks. I expected us to have set "school hours" and . . . the whole nine yards. And then I started researching homeschooling, and a whole new world was opened up to me . . . gradually, I came to realize that homeschool didn't have to mean sitting at desks (or the table) doing workbooks. And I began to realize that we were ALREADY homeschooling our children, and could do more by just shifting our thinking a little bit. I started listening to my children's questions, and trying to really answer them . . . when they asked "why", if I knew the answer, I told them, in terms a preschooler could understand. If I didn't know, sometimes, if we were home, we'd go look it up. Somewhere in there, they also learned that their Papa (my dad) is a treasure trove of information, especially about mechanical things and how things work. MiniMe is my "how does it work?" child (that part is NOT "MiniME", it's "MiniPAPA") and by the time she was 3 or 4, she'd ask me how something worked, I'd tell her I didn't know, and she'd say "I'll ask Papa" . . .

Learning to HEAR your child's questions, and help them to learn the answers is a huge step toward developing a lifestyle of learning.

Something that goes hand-in-hand with this is developing (or maintaining, because young children are born with this) a natural curiosity in your child. I'll never forget when a friend of mine took her son to "get your child ready for kindergarten" parents' meeting at their local public school. It was a wealthy area, and I guess it was not uncommon for a few children each year to have attended a Montessori preschool prior to going to the public school for kindergarten.  As a part of the meeting, this came up and the school personnel "jokingly" (I think?) said that they could always tell which children had attended a Montessori preschool because they were the ones wandering around the room touching everything and asking questions, "but we cure them of that" ha ha  . . . when my friend related this to me, I was appalled! Why would you want to CURE children of that natural curiosity and love of learning?!?!?!? On one level, I DO understand that in a classroom setting there's a need for order and quiet and . . . sameness, but still, it's so sad . . . GOD gave our children a love of learning. A curiosity to learn and know and figure things out, and the way we, as a society, for the last howevermany generations, "do school" SQUELCHES that! How sad!!!

And so, if your child is still young, and has the curiosity, ENCOURAGE it!! Take time to answer his millions of questions on a side note, I found, as my children were in the 4-5 age range, that they would ask questions over and over again, sometimes, if I thought they knew the answer, or if I didn't know the answer, or if there wasn't ONE answer, I'd push the questions back at them, "Why do YOU think it does that?" or "You tell me." when they'd ask a question. Often they'd know the answer, or think about it and come up with a good answer, if there was a right/wrong answer and they were wrong, we'd discuss it further and I'd answer it. Sometimes we'd still end up looking things up if we didn't know the answer.

So, how does this work for "school"? Now that they are older, we do "do school" to some extent. I wrote yesterday about our curriculum choices for this year, so right now our mornings are mostly spent doing Bible, History, Spanish, etc. Some days we sit at the dining room table, some days we sit around the family room. Some days (not right now when it's a gazillion degrees outside, or rainy like it is today) we go out on the patio. . .  But I also recognize that learning happens other times.  It happens when we are at the grocery store and I let them figure out whether it's cheaper to buy the prepackaged lettuce or a head of lettuce, or, alternately, which brand of tomato sauce is healthier. It happens when we drive and listen to Jonathan Park  or Your Story Hour. It happens when we have dinner with an old friend who mentions that she recently started keeping bees, and the girls proceed to bombard her with questions about beekeeping . . .

But another aspect of a lifestyle of learning is to recognize that, since learning happens all the time, it's ok to NOT do the "schoolwork" part of our day sometimes.  If I only counted the things I listed in my curriculum post as "school" then we didn't do much school last week when we were in Pittsburgh. But as you can probably tell from my blog posts about the trip, we DID do alot of learning. Since we don't take a "summer break" from the schoolwork part of our day, it gives us freedom to skip it when we have better things to do. In the spring and fall when the weather is gorgeous I'll often send the girls outside for the whole day. In the winter when we have a perfect sledding snow, or snowman snow, they play in the snow. But last winter when the snow was here forever and icy and no fun to play in, we certainly didn't take "snow days" just to be taking snow days, we did school then, and took "sunshine days" when the sun came back.  When it's a gazillion degrees outside we stay inside in the air conditioning and do our schoolwork. When we get a chance to go fun places and do fun things, we jump at them, that's all learning too.

One thing that the question of "how do you have a lifestyle of learning" made me think about is how the girls take advantage of opportunities to learn. At Erie Zoo, when there was a zoo employee with some "props" near the Zebras, the girls went over and got to feel a zebra pelt, learn about how the stripes on different types of zebras are different. See a model of a zebra skull and learn how they use their teeth and tongue and stuff. The girls actively asked questions about each item, and even though this particular employee didn't seem real thrilled to be there, the girls got alot of good information out of her. In most cases, we've found that employees/volunteers at zoos, museums, national parks, etc. are  thrilled to meet children who are interested in whatever the topic is. One of the employees at Williamsburg last time we were there, commented that she loved homeschool week because the homeschool children ask so many great questions. There's always the few employees who are just there for a paycheck and try to brush off the questions, and sometimes I've stepped in and moved the girls along (sometimes I do that because there are other people waiting to ask questions too, although there have been some times when I've started to move them along and the (adults) waiting to ask questions have stopped me, they're enjoying listening to the girls' questions and the answers to those questions and are happy to keep listening. So it's just a matter of being aware and figuring out what needs to happen each time).

A lifestyle of learning really boils down to adjusting your mindset. View life as a learning adventure, open your eyes to the learning that is taking place all around us. If your state requires it, DOCUMENT that learning that's taking place everywhere (if not, just notice it and enjoy it, unless you want to document it for your own records). When your children are making up a story about when they're grown up and ask you "Mommy, when I'm 25, how old will Little Bit be?" don't just absentmindedly say, 19. Stop and ask them "how old were you when she was born? So What's 25 minus 6?" and help THEM figure it out. Not only will it save you, later that day, telling them how old she'll be when they are 30 and 40 and 50, it will also be a math lesson that is much more acceptable to a child than sitting down and doing a page of math drills. And occasionally, as needed, remind yourself that the school system does things the way they do, not because it's the best learning environment, but because it's the easiest way to keep a large number of children from creating total chaos given the adult/child ratios that exist there. Since you have a much smaller adult/child ratio (unless you're the Duggars LOL. And Even then, since several of the older children are now "adults" they're still better off than the average classroom), you don't have to do things in the same way. You don't have to have your child do a worksheet to "prove" that they read a book, you can just ask them, "so what did you think of that book?" chances are they'll give you an ear-ful and you'll certainly know if they read it or not, and probably if they understood it or not. It would be hard for a teacher to do that with each of the children in the classroom, and a "group discussion" allows the child who didn't read to just sit quietly and the teacher might never notice. But you only have one, or a few, children who read the book, so just ask what they thought.

Similarly, I see no point in "reading books" beyond the "learn to read" stage. I make sure we have plenty of interesting looking books around and keep an eye on when/if/how much they're reading. There's no "assignment" to read, and they're learning to love reading, which is the whole point. If we're going in the car I'll often suggest they bring a book along. Or if we'll be somewhere that they'll need to wait quietly for awhile. I can tell that their reading is improving by noting the difficulty of the books they read (not by using "reading books" just being aware. When Sassy recently read Eight Cousins with only minor questions about what words were or what they meant, I figure she's doing fine for an 8 yr old. I'll also sometimes have them read Bible texts and such aloud as part of Bible or their Sabbath School lesson, which also helps me gauge how they're doing in reading.

So hopefully somewhere in all my babbling you learned abit about how to have a lifestyle of learning, whether you choose to send your children to public school or private school, or do school at home, or be as eclectic as us, you can still have a lifestyle of learning and help your children love learning now and for a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not Back-to-School Blog Hop 2011 - Curriculum Week

Not Back to School Blog Hop

It's time for the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter!  And this week is Curriculum Week. I've talked about our curriculum choices some already, but for the fun of joining the blog hop, we'll revisit the topic.

We have 8 yr old twin girls, Sassy & MiniMe, and a 2 yr old whirlwind (of the female variety), Little Bit.

Here's what we're doing:

Bible:  The older girls each have personal Bible time first thing in the morning. One of the big girls or I also reads a Bible story to Little Bit during our morning "Quiet Times". We begin our "school time" by reading through the Bible together, chronologically. I've discovered that the You Version app for my Android phone, not only has a chronological reading plan, but will "read it" to us, so I can just set it up and it reads it to us. Saves my voice :) After we listen to the day's reading, Sassy & MiniMe each choose something from the day's reading to make a notebooking page for. They can choose to write the verse, draw a picture illustrating the verse, or both.

History: We're using this as a guide. We used it 3 years ago, just as a guide to read alouds and fun craft projects. This year we're using some of the more in depth read alouds (but still skipping the "workbooks" and "textbooks" that are recommended, as well as having the girls read some of the books themselves. Still loving the crafts and other hands-on things.  Since we live in such a history-rich area (Pennsylvania) we're hoping to include quite a few field trips as well. 

Science:  This will be abit of a hodgepodge.  This summer Sassy asked if we could learn about "bugs" this year, so we're starting with that. I'm using bits and pieces of some ebooks I already had. We'll be making a lapbook of all the types of insect we look at, but rather than using a pre-made one, I'm just looking at ebooks I already have, and free lapbooks online to pull one or two mini-books for each type of bug we learn about. Right now we're learning about ants. After reading some general information about ants, and the book Are You an Ant?, now they are working on their minibook for ants. I found one that has a page for each of several kinds of ants. I'm having them look up each kind of ant in our "bug book" and fill in the information. I'll figure out the specifics of other bugs as we get to them. Once we finish "bugs", MiniMe has asked to learn about trees and edible plants. And if we get through ALL of those and have time left, this year, we'll go back to my original plan for science/nature, which was to use the Character Sketches series.

Spanish: We have a calendar with a word or phrase each day and we review that word and the words we've already learned.

Health: We began using Vintage Remedies for Girls last year and then put it on hold to review a different health program. As we have time this year, I'd like to continue with Vintage Remedies, perhaps once a week.

Art:  We get art in our history curriculum (it includes Draw Write Now plus lots of craft projects), and also the drawing for Bible. But if we have time (another one we'll probably do once a week), I'd like to use this to give them some "art appreciation" type art.

PE:  For the most part, we get this by playing outside and such, but we have started using Brain Gym each morning (at least when I remember) to do a few simple exercises to help us all focus better on our academics.

In addition to all that, I'm on the TOS Crew again this year, to review products, so our "curriculum" will vary throughout the year depending on what we're reviewing. Right now, we're waiting (anxiously LOL), to receive Nature Nuts Game, so that will be some additional science/nature stuff.

I also just received Before Five in a Row to review with Little Bit. She's on the young side of it, but I think we'll have fun reading stories together and doing fun activities, including some "PE" that I think the big girls will enjoy too.

So I think that's it. I'm a firm believer that math and language arts are best learned through other things, rather than drilling, so unless we review language arts or math drill type programs, we won't be doing formal "curriculum" for those items (oh, except we do still have our subscription to Wordy Qwerty from last year's review, so as they have time the girls will continue to play with that).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pittsburgh Trip 2011 - Part 4

 Our last day in Pittsburgh we went to Carnegie Science Center. Little Bit loved the little kid area. There were sorting toys and puzzles to play with.
 Building toys to build with.
 And her favorite, a huge water table area that had a bunch of ping pong balls in it. She had great fun scooping and pouring the water AND ping pong balls, and would have happily stayed there all day!
 Meanwhile the big girls were doing all kinds of things, most of which I didn't get pictures of. I DID get a picture of them working together to build an "earthquake-safe structure". You build it and then pushed a button and the platform it's sitting on shakes like an earthquake.
They also had fun with the huge "operation" game. Though they got frustrated when other kids came and "helped", especially ones who thought the point was to make the nose beep, and messed up their concentration.

Things I didn't get pictures of included riding a simulated roller coaster, jumping on, and doing flips on a trampoline, enjoying the big model train display. "Doing surgery". Learning about electrical currents. Learning about animation. Making a fish craft. Touching a hissing cockroach and a lizard of some sort (they could probably tell me what kind if I asked. . . and probably other things I'm forgetting.  They also got to see an Imax-type film on tornadoes, which they thought was pretty cool. Even MiniMe who is TERRIFIED of storms, liked the movie about them.

That evening we enjoyed having dinner with the Pittsburgh pastor and his family. Somehow Pastor Austin mentioned that he'd been a student missionary in Thailand, which led to the girls "drilling" him on Thai words, and asking about life in Thailand. So we had an extra little language/culture lesson with dinner.

And that wraps up our Pittsburgh Trip!